Critics and blogs have already noted the preoccupation with a sort of environmentalism on Antony and the Johnsons’ sophomore effort, The Crying Light: Opener “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground” appears to be an elegy for Earth (personified as a mother/lover figure) while “Another World” is about leaving it, WALL-E-style. But between Antony’s unusual visage (modeled partly after Boy George and partly after Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, as the story goes), that ghostly tremor of a voice, and his penchant for mystical imagery, it can seem like Antony genuinely believes he is indeed from another world. Which makes Hegarty a curious counterpart to Lil Wayne, who on last year’s Tha Carter III claimed that he was a Martian. Unlike Wayne (but like butoh dancer Kazuo Ono, whose image appears on the cover of Crying Light and whom Antony has dubbed “my art parent”), Antony’s performances are always classy as well as unequivocally odd. But there’s a hint of minstrelsy to both Antony and Wayne’s personas; their use of the fantastic can certainly be transcendent, but there’s also a certain sideshow appeal.
Antony’s one-of-a-kind tenor is stretched to the point of a whisper on Crying Light, and though he recently performed with a series of full orchestras, the new album has more in common with the elegant but decidedly smaller arrangements of 2005’s I Am a Bird Now. Aside from “Aeon,” which boasts an almost rockin’ electric guitar, these songs seem more like straight-up chamber music than chamber pop. I was unimpressed with the song “Another World” when it appeared on last October’s EP of the same name, but it fits nicely here: Its start-and-stop piano line and Antony’s gentle vocals make it an odd choice for a single, but a perfect one for a segue way between the album’s vaguely Philip Glass-y title track and the vampish “Daylight and the Sun.” On closer “Everglade,” Antony even gets his Celine Dion on; it’s the kind of ballad that you might expect to hear over the credits of some Hollywood epic, and its operatics wonderfully stop just shy of over-the-top. It’s certainly not as haunting as Antony’s AIDS meditation “Hope There’s Someone,” but like all of his work, “Everglade” is stirring, lovely, and otherworldly.