I can very clearly remember the first time I ever heard a song by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and how revelatory the moment was. I was in high school and my friend played their song “Into My Arms” from The Boatman’s Call while we driving in his car. The simple but beautiful arrangement along with the intensity of his lyrics really made me a fan instantly. I was not really prepared for the fact that the rest of his library of music sounded nothing like that album, but that beautiful bit of chamber pop struck a serious chord with me. I had searched a long long time for an album that would generate similar feelings from me by utilizing a similar music style, and I thought I would never find another band that did that until I finally listened to Antony and the Johnson’s beautiful album I Am a Bird Now. While the album is far from perfect, it is a breath-taking work of elegiac pop grandeur which also manages to tackle some rather heavy subject material that should have been inaccessible to me but is displayed so sincerely and beautifully that you can’t help but let it wash over you.
Throughout the album, simple but powerful instrumentation is used to set a mood that evokes images of back alley New York night clubs and old cabaret numbers. Whenever musical flourishes are rarely used, they are used to a great effect that expounds upon the emotional bearing of the tracks in question. “For Today I Am a Boy” is an sublimely pretty piece about the singer’s desire to finally be a woman despite being born a man. The lead singer is a transsexual and themes of gender identity and the anxiety of living our closed-minded world ring out throughout the whole album and even if you aren’t part of the community, you can’t help but empathize with what he’s singing about. “Fistful of Love” is a powerful duet with Lou Reed of Velvet Underground fame about the hapless state of being in a relationship where you’re the one making all the effort and feeling all of the emotion. It’s powerful stuff that should strike a chord with anybody that has a soul and isn’t a homophobic bigot.
This album might not be for everyone. Nick Cave crossed with classic soul singers crossed with overt homosexual imagery is probably not going to be topping the bill board charts. But if you enjoy chamber pop and you enjoy emotionally powerful music that should cross identity lines, then you should really check this out. When I put this album in for the first time, I had no idea what to expect from it. Having listened to it a couple of times now, I know that it’s truly a beautiful piece of art.
Final Score: B+