john-grant

In retrospect, John Grant now seems to represent one of the great musical near-misses of recent years. Before producing a genuinely stunning solo debut in the form of ‘Queen of Denmark’ back in 2010 – then five years out of the never-quite-made-it alt. rock band The Czars – he gave serious consideration to leaving the music business behind, with substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts all hampering his ability to work and write. That he has gone so impressively from strength to strength since – and, in doing so, has turned episodes of self-loathing into records that burst at the seams with humour, charisma and personality – is something to be relieved about; the world would be a little poorer without him in it.

What ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ shows us, though, is that Grant is continuing – as he did on breakthrough album ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ a couple of years ago – to turn his hand to new stylistic pastures with ease.

‘Snug Slacks’ is an out-and-out disco-funk strut, with a casual, almost spoken-word vocal over sludgy synths, while ‘Guess How I Know’ taps into some of the same brash riffery that producer John Congleton presided over on last year’s self-titled St. Vincent record. ‘Voodoo Doll’, too, is dominated by an electro groove, and serves as proof that the biting quality of Grant’s sardonic lyrics isn’t withered by him adopting a different vocal style to his trademark baritone: “Even on your worst day I hate no one more than you / Break into my house and read my diary if you need some proof” is amongst the standout lines. “You and Hitler ought to get together / You ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters,” goes the taunt of ‘You & Him’.

It’s the tracks on ‘Grey Tickles…’ on which Grant reverts to familiar sonic territory that feel like the detours; the sprawling title track sets the deadpan delivery of old against sweeping strings and a choir to summon up some operatic intensity, whilst ‘Down Here’’s gentle jangle provides some respite from the electronic onslaught.

This is not a short record – it clocks in at just under an hour – and you have to suspect that opinions will be split as to whether the handful of songs that don’t match the synth-driven palette so evident elsewhere might have been cut. For me, they play an important role in the pacing and are strong enough to command inclusion (‘Global Warming’ is a highlight), but it’s hard not to suspect others will feel differently.

Grant drafts in Tracey Thorn on ‘Disappointing’ for an unconventional but no less thrilling duet; it’s one of a host of tracks on the LP to really crystallise its central themes of anger and resentment – Grant is on bullish lyrical form throughout.

The album is then bookended by spoken-word snippets of a passage from the Bible, specifically Corinthians 13:4 – “love is patient, love is kind.” It’s in stark contrast to the perspective of the topic that Grant presents throughout the rest of the record, but then he’s never been averse to a touch of irony and grim humour. Just as on his last two records, the sheer force of his personality finds a way to shine through even when he’s aggressively pursuing different sonic approaches, and it’s that, in turn, that sets him a class apart from so many of his peers.

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