Antony and the Johnsons 

I Am a Bird Now

If Antony and his six-piece band the Johnsons had formed two decades ago, they would've probably been relegated to the bathhouse or piano-bar circuit. So fortunately it's 2005, and audiences have had years to adjust to gender-bending bands like Culture Club and Dead or Alive. For the former cabaret singer's gospel-tinged sophomore release, I Am a Bird Now (featuring a classic cover photo of Warhol muse Candy Darling), the pale-white, piano-playing chanteur with the majestic falsetto continues his own exploration of gender and identity, in elegantly crafted torch songs that seem to trace Antony's perceived path from boyhood to womanhood. Backed by an eclectic cast of musicmakers from Lou Reed and Boy George to Rufus Wainwright and Devendra Banhart, Antony's pathos rises to its highest precipices on "For Today I Am a Boy" and "Bird Guhl," which describes an idealized post-sex-change-op future: I'm a bird guhl and the bird guhls go to heaven/I'm a bird guhl and the bird guhls can fly. Living life in an unfamiliar body is surely an unwelcome prison, and although Antony's confinement within his gender causes him anguish, there is no fearful trill when this courageous caged bird sings of freedom.

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