Few albums sound like I Am A Bird Now, and it's probably better that way: Voiced by a singer less arresting than Antony, songs so histrionic would almost have to slide into grandiloquence, toppled by ticks and mannerisms that flap like red and white flags. As Antony sings them, however, operatic songs about love, death, and beguiling identity crises play out as devastatingly powerful and personal, the stuff of outsized drama set on a stage barely big enough for spectacle on any scale.
An odd creature from the weirder edges of New York's cabaret world, Antony rose up as a singular star who dresses in drag and shies away from the strings that swell behind him. His voice answers to a strange algebra of influences, falling somewhere between smoky soul-stirrer Nina Simone and morose crooner Scott Walker. It's an emotive instrument suited to lines like "Hope there's someone who'll care of me when I die," which announces the moody tenor of I Am A Bird Now at the start. Antony doesn't sound sure whether that someone will ever come, but the idea remains through a swirl of mysterious moans and rising piano pitched toward something bigger than earthly hope. Antony is a dreamer with a dark streak: In "For Today I Am A Boy," he pines to grow up as a beautiful woman, squirming free of the boyish frame that fits neither his voice nor his aspiration.
Guest stars dot I Am A Bird Now, but their presence mostly helps set Antony in a more delicate and commanding light. Boy George comes off as tough next to Antony's fey trills in "You Are My Sister," while Rufus Wainwright and Devendra Banhart sound welcome, though a bit unmoored, in other duets. Lou Reed (a longtime fan whom Antony has backed on stage) plays wise in "Fistful Of Love," intoning a few words at the start before ducking behind hazy guitar clips and a snatch of his old '70s saxophones. The collaborations break the album's spell in places, but Antony's musical presence haunts and hypnotizes long after he's left the stage.