“Hope there’s someone to take care of me when I die,” sang Anthony Hegarty on 2005’s breakthrough I Am A Bird Now. “I need another world/ This one’s nearly gone,” he sings now on The Crying Light. These lyrics encompass the central difference between the two releases: the former, a confessional journey of personal and sexual identity, inwardly focused intended for cathartic release; the latter, Antony’s reflection on the changing world environment and his own relationship with it. This theme, especially analogized through his maternal and paternal relationships, is at the forefront of this record. Opener “Her Eyes Underneath the Ground”, whose soft piano introduces Antony’s quavering voice, deals with all these elements. Even Antony admits it; initially a song about his mother, he began feeling it was more about his mother’s relationship with her own mother, then it became about our relationship with ecology.
The versatility of meaning in Antony And The Johnsons' songs is particularly pronounced on The Crying Light. Its predecessor had no interest in such ambiguity in its tales of personal sorrow, love and death. This sort of undisguised emotion doesn’t have the same place on The Crying Light. For instance, we’re to consider a line in “Epilepsy Is Dancing” that speaks of “the metal burned in me/ down the brain of my river,” as the song’s ballroom dance melody juxtaposes its uncomfortable title. “One Dove” trails along sedately as he addresses the bearer of this song’s message as the “one he’s been waiting for”; it could be a lover, a parent or the earth – we seemed doomed to never know. After all, the album is described by Antony as “contemplative” and it sounds this way. Abstaining from spontaneity, most of the tracks sound musically concentrated and reserved, yet lyrically abstract. The exception being the radiant “Aeon”, homage to Antony’s father (“Oh Aeon/ Love my father/ For my father is myself”), which boasts the album’s most awing moment when he yelps “hold that man I love so much!”
The Crying Light does not necessarily feel like a progression in sound. Antony’s operatic falsetto bellows as it usually does, but we’ve heard his voice before and acclimatized to its initial neurosis. The strength of his vocal oscillations isn’t used as cathartically as before. On his debut, listen to him roar “I’m on fire” on “Blue Angel”; or consider the palpable anguish that characterized tracks like “Fistful of Love” and “Bird Gerhl” from I Am A Bird Now. The Crying Light is less interested in personal melodrama, yet it was Antony’s perfection of the maudlin that made his music so gripping and unabashed. The first half of Crying Light almost feels energetically complacent. Antony’s former self doesn’t reemerge until the title track as he sings as if fighting back tears: “I was born to adore you/ As a baby in the blind.” “Another World”, from the EP of the same name, follows and is classically beautiful and elegant – so much so that we are willing to forgive lyrical truisms like “I need another world/ will there be peace?” However, when used correctly, Antony’s inimitable voice feels like a product of the Divine, allowing just about any lyric to seem profound.
Thematically, The Crying Light isn’t engrossed by gender identity like its predecessor. In an interview with Danish TV, Antony simply seemed less interested to broach these subjects. While so much of his previous work undauntedly approached his identity as a transgender, The Crying Light doesn’t deal with such poignant material. Of course, Antony is entitled (and encouraged) to deal with whatever subject matter he chooses, but it’s difficult to rally behind songs whose meaning is less extractable and moving. It feels like a good portion of The Crying Light is aching for the visceral, rather than meticulous production. It is not hard to imagine Antony’s passionate live persona bringing the songs to new heights, especially considering the success of these songs on a structural level. The Crying Light simply feels less involved than his former work; but assuredly, he can evoke any passion that might be lost in a live setting.