Why everyone should buy a copy of Antony and the
Johnsons 2005 album,I Am a Bird Now
Now this album was hard for me when it first came out; another useless mercury prize fodder I thought, and probably wrote, at the time.
With Antonys eccentric crooning vocals, the baroque arrangements, transgender theme and odd song titles, this album definitely didnt appeal to the 14 year old boy obsessed with the Ramones and My Bloody Valentine that I was in 2005.
And therefore it makes sense when I tell you that I stumbled across it by accident. It was a ornamental CD on the dressing table in my house; one of those records my mum would cry to with her sisters after family troubles around Christmas time, and then it was when I confused it for a Velvet Underground album that it found itself being downloaded into my I-tunes library. It was then convenient that this laptop crashed and I couldnt access the library again to take off albums I didnt want and load newly bought ones onto the I-pod (both a criticism for MP3s; in their disposable reality, but also a somewhat fateful accident considering the relevance of this album).
I Am a Bird Now is the closest music can get to being pure and genuine personality and emotion. I say this with a somewhat embarrassing openness for someone who admires the quick thrills of immediate music; rock, pop and hip-hop, but the songs on this album require sincerity because they are sincerity. The songs are ballads for the outsider, they are ballads of every persons desire to seek connection with others and themselves in the hustle and bustle of day to day life. I write these grandiose philosophical statements (which could easily be perceived, even by me, as bombastic and pretentious) with ease because Antonys songs make you feel such a feeling beyond care for genre or taste that one realises how universal his message is.
In the age of detachment, where people seek to detach themselves from sincerity and genuine talk to attach themselves to fast-changing scenes and statuses (which in itself is evidential for the humans need for connection), any genuine talk of love or enthuse can easily, at a certain point, become teased and mocked for being too blah blah gay, pretentious, weird ...... whatever, but it is I am a Bird now that defies the status or ranking we fit our musical tastes into and in fact presents a message so deep and human. The album is purely and simply a reawakening of the soul.
How does music do this?
How can any song that is worthy of being a track amongst a pile of songs on a computer library be life changing? We all know that there are songs that suit different moods, songs that represent a feeling we once had in a relationship or event, songs that sooth us, songs that pump anger into our blood, passion, fun, movement, longing, death, love...... life! This is hardwired into us- plain, simple and easy to understand even if your opinion is cos its got this fat bass.
We are beings that connect and function through sounds we make to each other; language is as Stephen Fry puts it, an example of a neuron technology we have created to validate this need for connection, and therefore it is when songs give you more then their subject matter that they fit the above category, the category where we talk of connecting.
Antonys lyrics are definitely not for everyone, the running theme throughout the album could in obvious terms, be to do with his transgender identity, most of the songs, in particular For Today I am a Boy and Man is the Baby are in obvious terms about him growing into a women; a very odd subject for most, one that probably makes the albums concept immediately hard to grasp. However the pain and emotion behind an identity conflict that represents a growth- a somewhat adventure- is the most convincing canvas for a ballad that is true to the soul. The album is the postmodern version of Blakes Songs of Innocence and Experience, the first-person love story account of a character in Eliots The Waste Land, it is a ballad of the struggle behind technology where life is about both being alien and connected, it is the realisation one gets when they split up with someone- or the pain and loss etc etc etc etc.
Hyperbolic and bombastic it does sound, but I have gone beyond concern for cool when talking about this album; Antonys songs are not simply about love, they are love. Antony doesnt just play the piano, he caresses and smoothes out the chords, his voice echoes, shakes and soars without force or false delivery, the backing musicians feel it with him- their strings and backing rhythms are natural and passionate, the guest singers include Lou Reed, Boy George and Devendra Banhart; three musicians with no relation to each other except clearly representing Antonys sentimentality.
I can go on and on and on and on and piss you guys off so much.
And I will lavish in pissing you off, I will love it even if you vehemently cant stand this album because these songs are so beautiful and real!
If you wanna take my advice, then buy this album, find an evening when youre preferably alone and listen to it in its entirety, then do it again and again.
Because once it grows on you, it will hug you like a dream lover. Make
you quit drugs/alcohol/porn/cigarettes/ or lavish them with your heart.
Make you forgive wrongs from friends. Forgive your conservative and
disappointed family or selfish ex-girlfriends/boyfriends because ultimately
youre all human and you share the same experiences of trying to
bond and find love where you can while maintaining a wage packet and
We all have idols and role models,
Joe EYEbank (Aybak)