Let Antony’s Voice lure you into ‘I am a Bird Now’

Jason LeRoy

Uniquely voiced Antony and his band The Johnsons will be playing the Beachland Ballroom this Wednesday in support of their Secretly Canadian debut I Am a Bird Now.

Credit: Jason LeRoy

I’ve recently begun playing a little game with friends of mine.

After sitting them down in close proximity to a stereo, I tell them I am about to play a song for them. After reassuring them that no, I am not once again making them listen to Marianne Faithfull pre- and post-heroin, I begin playing “Hope There’s Someone,” the opening track on the second full-length release by Antony and the Johnsons, I am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian).

As the room fills with the exquisitely soulful and deeply melancholy sounds of the song, I ask my unfortunate victim to describe what they picture the singer to look like. My patsy will then describe either a male or a female, but will always confidently assert that the vocalist is African-American.

Unable to delay gratification any longer, I fumble desperately with the CD booklet in a rush to show them the real culprit: a white-as-snow, blonde, thin-lipped, sickly, androgynous blonde male. They gasp. I shriek with delight. Yes, this is how I get my jollies these days.

The voice, or should I say Voice, of Antony is something that truly must be heard to be believed. Even if it was emerging from an African-American, it would still be remarkable in its expressive, tremulous resonance.

Reminiscent of Nina Simone, the Voice is so nakedly emotional that the listener almost becomes uncomfortable listening to it. This is further exacerbated when the listener realizes the Voice is coming from a transgendered white male.

Antony’s Voice is truly one of the most remarkable vocal sounds to emerge out of popular music in the last hundred years. I do not make this statement lightly. Thusly, with a Voice like this, the quality of the accompanying music is of little relevance.

Fortunately, though, the music on I am a Bird Now is exceptional. “Hope There’s Someone” is the sort of evocative spiritual that one imagines Moby listening to while making a Mr. Burns-style steeple with his fingers. The predominant style on the album is this manner of primal, sparely arranged secular gospel music.

Antony and the Johnsons also are joined by numerous well-wishers on several tracks. The guest artists follow the “something old/new/borrowed/blue” model so popular at weddings everywhere. The “something old” is former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed, with whom Antony has toured. Reed joins Antony on “Fistful of Love,” the sort of rollicking rock-and-soul that Reed wrote before starting VU.

“Something new” is trendy folkster Devendra Banhart, who sings on “Spiralling.” The “borrowed” item is none other than Boy George, from whom Antony borrowed his gender ambiguity and with whom he sings an appropriately titled duet called, “You Are My Sister.” And finally, the “something blue” is the perennially somber-n-swanky sounds of crooner Rufus Wainwright, who sings lead vocal on the delightful, “What Can I Do?”

Antony and the Johnsons will be playing at the Beachland Ballroom on Wednesday, Feb. 23. But even if you can’t check out their show, please consider at least giving the Voice a chance. There’s nothing like it.

Contact pop arts reporter Jason LeRoy at

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