Antony Hegarty, is everything all right? You seem a little down.
Antony and the Johnsons
But to be perfectly honest, Swanlights is about as chipper as Hegarty is ever really going to get. Hegarty’s fourth album with his band Antony and the Johnsons marks a turn for the optimistic compared to his previous work, which took on heavy themes such as isolation and Hegarty’s personal struggle with gender identity. Not to say those themes aren’t revisited in Swanlights — they are — but this time around, the tone of the album is based on healing rather than hurting.
The English-born singer-songwriter, who identifies as both gay and transsexual, is known for his biographical outsider music. On his latest album, Hegarty croons lyrics like “Snake, snake, shed your skin / Shed your skin and go away, away” on the track “Ghost,” which offers a powerful message of redemption and affirmation in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. The meditative nature of the track reflects Hegarty’s own growth, not only as a musician, but as an individual overcoming his past “ghosts.”
The album opener “Everything is New” is a breathy, subtle little number that serves as an apt introduction to Hegarty’s therapeutic rebirth. At the same time, it reassures listeners this is still the same Antony and the Johnsons that brought the world the hauntingly beautiful I Am a Bird Now, the winner of the 2005 Mercury Prize and the album that helped launch Hegarty from relative obscurity into mainstream conscience. Quietly contemplative piano provides the backdrop to Hegarty’s ruminations.
Equally emotive is the track “Thank You for Your Love,” a full-bodied, uplifting tribute: “When my mind was broken into a thousand pieces / Oh thank you for your love.” The song reflects upon Hegarty’s past trials and tribulations, suggesting that with the help of his loved ones, he has moved past those dark times.
Guest spots by luminaries like Björk also make their way onto the album — she lends her eerily sparse vocals to the joyful “Fletta,” amid a setting of weeping violins, reverberating cello and trickling flutes. Accompanied by Hegarty’s trademark tremulous voice, it’s the perfect pairing.
Swanlights as a whole, though consistent with Antony and the Johnsons’s mournful aesthetic, is much more hopeful than any album Hegarty has produced thus far. It seems as though the poster boy of tragedy pop has finally found his way to the light.