Antony and the Johnsons, I Am A Bird Now

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Mercury Prize-winning songs of pain and power drawn from a palette of gender identity.

You could say artist/musician/androgyne Antony has a certain flair for drama. Spirited by the tranny cabarets and gender-fucking performance artists that lured him to New York from California in the early '90s, Antony torches his piano with poignant songs of pain and power, alienation and acceptance, love and sorrow, all drawn from a palette of gender identity, the desire to be female never far from his thoughts. "One day I'll grow up/I'll be a beautiful woman," he promises on "For Today I Am a Boy" — and if that doesn't work, there's always surgery ("My Lady"). His melancholia is underscored by his swanlike, womanish tenor, which flutters, warbles and floats out in grand curlicues of vibrato, lifted high on a pedestal of piano and a small string section (which includes Joan As Policewoman violinist Joan Wasser). He also posses up the man-sopranos for guest spots, reminding us he's not the first pop singer flaunting his divaness; for "You are My Sister," he's joined by O.G. gender-queer pop star Boy George, while the loping "What Can I Do?" features Rufus Wainwright's clear croon; and neo-hippie hipster Devendra Banhart contributes on "Spiralling." I Am a Bird Now's real life longing is cradled in bouts of bittersweet fantasy and cushioned by hope; as such, Antony's theatricality never overpowers his humanity. "I am a bird-girl," he wails sadly on the closing track, "and bird-girls can fly!"