CD: Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now

(Rough Trade)

It sounds like hard work: an album by a man who sings like a woman, which deconstructs gender and jumps back and forth over the fault-line between performance art and commercial music. But the truth lies in the title. Along with the broad themes of transformation and freedom comes a knowing wink.

Antony, a UK-born, US-raised cabaret artist, is gifted with a vibrato voice - think Nina Simone, Billie Holiday - that sighs with sincerity and the lyrical prowess to make the profoundly personal both accessible and ambiguous. The haunting My Lady Story could be about spirituality, femininity or identity; Spiralling might be a delicious sensation or a dreaded malaise.

Famous friends put in appearances - Lou Reed on guitar, Rufus Wainwright on vocals - but this is Antony's show. Majestic while confronting his mortal fears on the gospel-hued Hope There's Someone, childlike and life-affirming on For Today I Am a Boy, he is never less than a class act.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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