Antony & the Johnsons - Swanlights
is one of those seemingly untouchable artists. Cited as an influence by many and collaborating with a range of musicians throughout the left-field side of music, he’s also won a Mercury Music Prize and his career has lived to tell the tale. Swanlights could be the first hiccup then in his relatively short career.
Treading much the same sparse ground that previous album The Crying Light did, this isn’t the dense and ‘overgrown’ record that it has been made out to be. Opening track ‘Everything Is New’ is typical of Hegarty’s approach, with its almost whispered vocals and sparing use of piano. ‘The Great White Ocean’ continues in an almost nursery rhyme fashion with the lilting vocals and dreamy acoustic guitar. There’s no arguing that these songs are solid additions to his catalogue, but there doesn’t seem to be much sense of progression here.
‘I’m In Love’ does see the sound palette widen quite a bit however, and ends up being one of the standouts as a result. Short bursts of strings and high pitched organ-like sounds mix with woodwind instruments and a brilliantly powerful vocal performance. On ‘Fletta’, Antony duets with Icelandic chanteuse Bjork and she puts in a brilliant performance as her voice mixes with the urgent keys and more gentle tones of Hegarty.
Swanlights is a good solid album, if a little unremarkable. And that’s where the problem lies, as Antony & the Johnsons have always been an example of remarkable music and song-craft, creating worlds of wide-eyed wonder. At times beautiful, this is however a bit of a disappointment.