"My Lady Story," Antony and the Johnsons

"My Lady Story"
Antony and the Johnsons

There are a number of New Simon Le Bons out there right now, but only one New Boy George that I know of, and the best part is that he's not all that much like Boy George and maybe a little bit better. (And Boy George was good, maybe even a revolutionary.) Transgender art-pop singer-songwriter Antony--yesterday a lower Manhattan art-scene phenomenon; tomorrow an international semi-celebrity--challenges prejudices just by being himself in the rarely queeny indie-pop world. In the process, he's challenging some critical prejudices, including some of my own. His arresting, histrionic songs are indebted to old soul records, but also to musical theater, cabaret, opera, Nina Simone, Cocteau Twins, and other styles and artists with lots of gay-male devotees and lots of straight-male skeptics. For the record, I share some of Antony's musical faves: Simone, select musical theater, Boy George, who turns in a likable cameo on Antony and the Johnsons' latest album, I Am a Bird Now.

Still, I can't concur with others: Devendra Banhart, for instance, who turns in an excruciating cameo on I Am a Bird Now. Also, at some point or another I've subscribed to the following tenets/clichés: Keep it simple, don't name a song "Bird Gehrl," don't overact, use a surname.

But as George Michael once pleaded in an album title, it's always best to "listen without prejudice." So I did, and I mostly surrendered. If you're on a budget or skeptical that Antony could become your Cleopatra, try downloading (pay for it) the singer's "My Lady Story," which is beautiful and soulful and righteous. I don't know quite what it's about, since I can't make out all the slurry lyrics. It might be about gender trouble, or it might be about beauty, which is my best guess. I also don't know why Antony uses the possessive ("My lady's story") in the lyric but not in the title, and there's no way I'll warm to fussy lines such as "My lady's story is one of annihilation/my lady's story is one of breast amputation."

But what a performance! Listen to Antony bend and stretch those notes, listen to his fluttering ooh-ooh-ooh, listen to those enveloping harmonies (an e-mail correspondent hears doo-wop, I hear Richard and Linda Thomson's "Calvary Cross"), listen to Todd Cohen's subtle, offbeat snare hits--all the frills are necessary, every sound asks you to lie on the floor and turn out the lights.

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