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- - - -"For me, there isn't a word of filler on the album. I've made a very clear statement about where I'm at and who I am as a person, and that's one reason I'm so proud of it, that I was able to articulate it. At least I'm being given a chance to embrace the pain instead of being afraid to move through it."- - - -
It was through the unlikely source of Chris Tarrant's Radio 2 programme that I got to hear about my latest musical discovery, John Grant. It was through his show that I first heard "I wanna go to Marz" and stumbled upon one of those rare "Eureka" moments in which I realised I'd stumbled upon an artist I would want to come back to again and again.
John Grant is a 41 year old American singer, songwriter and pianist who had ten fairly unsuccessful years fronting The Czars. This lack of success resulted in a long period outside of music altogether which he spent overcoming his drug and alcohol addiction.
He was talked out of this retirement by Texan folk-rockers midlife, with whom he collaborated on his new album "Queen of Denmark".
The album is very much a product of Grant's upbringing as a homosexual living in a deeply religious family in the American southwest. Grant's mother died still unable to come to terms with her "disappointment" at her son's sexuality and it is the resulting self-hatred and cripplingly low self-esteem that this album looks at.
On first listen, it is difficult to tell what era the album belongs to. Overall it has a 70s feel, but combines a number of different sounds including The Moody Blues, The Carpenters, Rufus Wainwright, Elliott Smith, Elton John, Paul Young, The Flaming Lips and the Divine Comedy.
Throughout, there is a tangible other-worldly, dreamlike quality as Grant's gorgeously effortless baritone guides the listener over this stark yet beautiful landscape against the backdrop of pianos, flutes and synths. Despite the melancholy undertones there is a natural upbeat feel provided by Grant's warm voice.
The themes of the album are deeply personal but also universal; love, rejection, redemption and the inability to fit in. However, to Grant's immense credit, this is not an album full of self-pity and angst. Instead, it casts a wry look over his past in a humorous and often uplifting way.
- - - -"The world came crashing down on them with all it's ferocity
And Honeybear was terrified, he said do not take him take me"- - - -
The album opener, "TC and the Honeybear" sets the tone beautifully with Grant's effortless voice set against a sparse backdrop of flute, piano and strings. This is the first of three songs about an ex-boyfriend. "I met someone beyond special and he changed my life and that's all there is to it and that cannot be taken away from me." Although lyrically this, and the album as whole, is occasionally clumsy, it is painfully and transparently honest.
"I wanna go to Marz" is definitely the highlight of the album. The "Marz" refers to a sweetshop he used to visit as a child, and the lyrics simply list his favourite treats, reflecting on the innocence of childhood. It has a psychedelic appeal with a stunningly beautiful yet simplistic melody played on the piano in the back-ground.
His frustration at his inability to fit in is reflected in the album "Sigourney Weaver", which is another of the album's strong points and again reflects his admirable ability to point out his own failings and insecurities with humour. In it, he compares his feeling of being ostracised at school with Sigourney Weaver's battle with aliens.
Another highlight, "Where Dreams Go To Die" reflects Grant's ability to simultaneously be both melodramatic, but also thoughtful and subdued.
There are no weak tracks or fillers at all on the album; each song is a lovingly and painstakingly crafted piece of music. There is real variety within the album; light hearted ragtime pieces contrastingly sharply with melancholy arrangements.
This is an album which seems to have influences from all over the musical spectrum. The finished product however manages to transcend the sum of its influences and become something unique and quite brilliant.
The CD is now available from Amazon for just £6.99. As a debut album, it is the best I have heard in a very long time and I would highly recommend a listen.
- - - - "When I got out of bed this morning
I noticed that it didn't have a right side
And my head feels like it's filled to the top
With pop and rocks and cyanide" - - - -
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 TC And Honeybear
2 I Wanna Go To Marz
3 Where Dreams Go To Die
4 Sigourney Weaver
5 Chicken Bones
6 Silver Platter Club
7 It's Easier
8 Outer Space
9 JC Hates Faggots
11 Leopard And Lamb
12 Queen Of Denmark