Thursday, March 28, 2013

FEATURE 112 ~ John Grant

After reading a review of his latest album, I checked out John Grant on You Tube. As you can see he's a hunky bear of a man, much given to wearing lumberjack shirts, a full beard, wooly hats and currently lives in Iceland, of all places.An expressive singer and fabulous songwriter, whose struggled to be at peace with himself, his past, and being fine with being a gay man. So plenty to be resonant with there.

His songwriting can be very frank, genuinely self-revealing, wry, spiky and lyrical, all within the space of one song. Delivered by this lusciously expressive baritone voice, that is earthy and vulnerable. From the interviews I've read, he seems to have had a bit of a rough old life so far. No wonder he can appear so bitter in his songs. Wrestling with the triple demons of low self esteem, bad lovers and bad drugs. Somehow, his dry sense of humour saves those soul baring songs from becoming maudlin or self-pitying. Classic love song themes of betrayal, revenge, hurt and loss reoccur. Whilst he gives both himself and his former lovers a hard time, his appeal is as universal as it is personally cathartic.

Even his more plangent of songs, such as Drug, or Glacier on the new album, contain within them small but telling phrases about the nature of attraction or how oppressive relationships can be whilst still in the midst of love. They succeed in both moving and amusing. His openness on 'Queen of Denmark,' turns the gritty painful subject matter of his life into art. When he accompanies himself solo on the piano, one is struck by the expressive directness, but also his powerful skill as a piano player. There is an air of the classic songwriting style around the opening lines of Where Dreams Go To Die, 'Your beauty is unstoppable, Your confidence unspeakable' that echoes the opening song preludes of Ella Fitzgerald. Now he's discovered his own voice, he uses devastatingly well.

I'm currently working through his back catalogue with The Czars. There are glimmers of great potential in some of the songs, but essentially something fails to gel between the music and the songs. They don't mutually enhance each other. The range of musical styles veers all over the place, sometimes The Csar's sound like REM, then The Cocteau Twins, then a bit Jazzy, then electro, throw around some wacky experiment or Robert Fripp style guitar. This eclectic range of influences showed some signs of melding into a more distinct vision by the last album Goodbye, but by then the original band members had left, and it had become pretty much Grant's baby.

Two years later, after leaving music alone for a while, he releases Queen of Denmark to great acclaim, and now his second solo album Pale Green Ghosts emerges. On it he's worked with some of Iceland's young electronic music talent, to come up with something that further develops the musical envelope he can deliver his songs in. It feels a more rounded album to listen to, though the familiar frankness is still there, the former lovers still get a pounding, but there's a broader softening fringe to the songs. Perhaps success and appreciation of his talent means he's becoming a bit kinder, a tad less angry, which can only be a good thing for him and all concerned.

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