First of all, it kicks a major amount of ass that the EPFL has this album. Secretly Canadian is hardly a big label, and vocalist Antony would certainly be controversial if anyone knew who he was.
I fell in love with Antony's voice when I first heard him on CocoRosie's "Beautiful Boyz," and his vocals on I Am a Bird Now are great. He sounds as if he's troubled by demons that torment him by night and terrify him by day. His range is perfect for a man who struggles with the boundaries of gender, and it calls to mind the finest moments of Alison Moyet.
Like the vocals, the music is rich and layered. "Fistful of Love" is my least favorite song, but its faux Motown feel would probably grow on me in time. The piano (also performed by Antony) complements the vocals perfectly, and reminds me of those rare occasions when Tori Amos stops trying to prove how interesting she is. The arrangements add emotion without being cheesy.
The music is at its best when Antony writes words that transcend his personal struggles. Loneliness and isolation are universal, and we don't need to be struggling with gender identity to relate. When Antony opens the album with, "Hope there's someone / who'll take care of me / when I die, will I go," I feel his confusion and fear, and I feel my own, too. But when he goes into, "My lady story / Is one of breast amputation," it's clear that this is Antony's album, not anyone else's. He'll let the listeners close enough to act as voyeuristic spectators, but our role is clear; we are to sit quietly in awe like an obedient little audience, instead of interacting with -- and maybe even relating to -- the performer.
I Am a Bird Now is self-absorbed. If you're okay with that, then it is absolutely worth your time. But if you want an artist to acknowledge that he is not the only human being on the planet, this probably isn't the album for you.
It would've been higher, but the lyrics are weak. The musicians know what to play -- and what not to play. The drama occasionally outweighs the music, which seems to be purposeful but it doesn't always work. Lyrically, he tries too hard to shock the listener with gruesome words that reflect his torment.
I'm not sure what the proper cover is, and different web sites feature different panels of the jacket as the cover. Regardless, both designs make for notable covers. Most of the images work well together, and the package is interesting. It's a shame the lyrics aren't included, because they're a big part of the package (even when they're weak). The image of the prison wall and the letters from the hermaphrodite children add intriguing touches.
Listen if you like: Alison Moyet, Tori Amos, CocoRosie, Rufus Wainwright.
If it were food, it'd be: Rich, delicious, and wonderfully fattening whole cream. The lyrics, however, are a couple of days past the expiration date.