Back in 2005, Antony & the Johnsons deservedly won the Mercury Music Prize for best album I Am A Bird Now. It seemed emotionally bruised songs about confused gender identity, sung with a voice recalling both Nina Simone and Kermit the Frog, was exactly what the world needed to hear.
Over a decade later and the artist longing to transform into a woman got to live out her dream, returning to the thing she excels in under a new identity.
Perhaps now feeling complete within, Anohni’s attention focussed on what didn’t feel quite right on the outside. The result was an astonishing piece of work covering everything from drone warfare and climate change, to execution and violent masculinity. But although political to its core, the backdrop of uplifting electronics helped lighten the mood.
Watching Me sounded like a heartening ode to a late father figure on first listen, until it became apparent that the protective ‘Daddy’ was a reference to mass surveillance. Elsewhere, Drone Bomb Me had you humming along to the story of a young Afghan girl pining for death. And despite painting the picture of wailing dogs crying out for water, it was impossible not feel a thousand feet tall when subjected to the thunderous beats on 4 Degrees.
Best of all was Obama. While challenging America’s most popular president of recent times over the treatment of whistle blowers, Anohni’s low registered distortion suspiciously recalled the subject matter’s own public rendition of Amazing Grace.
Make no mistake. As enjoyable as Hopelessness is, it’s an unsettling album about the world in crisis. And although Anohni has an interesting backstory, it’s completely overshadowed by her not-so-secret weapon; a crushing voice that commands to be heard.
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