After setting the bar higher than any of his contemporaries with his first two solo albums, 'Queen Of Denmark' and 'Pale Green Ghosts', former Czars man John Grant returns with his third solo album proper. Having garnered more critical acclaim than most musicians dream of in a lifetime, the weight of expectation on John Grant's latest release 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' was not unsubstantial. Thankfully, his move to Iceland, bleak barely lit winter days, a foray into Eurovision composition and a seemingly more confident demeanour have not diminished his ability to craft and convey a song.
The twelve songs on 'GT, BP' are bookended by a reading from Corinthians about love; serving as a very apt binder for the whole album. The onset of middle age (Grey Tickles) and nightmares (Black Pressure) that such a passage in one's life bring with it may have been the premise for John's latest work. However, it is once again his tenderness, understanding, humour, bloody minded frankness and above all, honesty that set his songs apart and generally above other formidable singer-songwriters. "I can't believe I missed New York during the 70's, I could have gotten a head start in the world of disease. I'm sure that I would have contracted every single solitary thing. There are children who have cancer so all bets are off, 'cause I can't compete with that", Grant sings on the superb title track.
John's latest album is once again littered with film, actor and singer references from Scanners to Ordinary People, Charlene Tilton to Geraldine Paige and Joan Biaz to Joan As Policewoman. All are encapsulated in terrific lyrics that are both cleverly observed and even more cleverly incorporated. John's lyrics have always been full of blackly comic moments and 'Grey Tickles' has more than it's fair share of sharp, biting, incendiary content and wit to blow you away. "You and Hitler ought to get together, you ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters, you ought to learn the finer points of decoupage, you ought to spend your weekends clearing out the garage" ('You & Him').
For all the artistry, experimentation with arrangements and instrumentation (the funky injection provided by keyboard player Bobby Sparks and the percussive brilliance of Budgie have clearly given an extra dimension to some of the tracks), 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' is still at its best when John doesn't try too hard. 'Voodoo Doll' and the Sparks/Associates/Kraftwerk mash-up 'Snug Slacks' are great tracks but John excels himself on 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' itself, the sympathetic, heartfelt 'Geraldine', fabulously emotive and emotional 'Magma Arrives' and beautiful love song 'Disappointing'. Here, dueting effortlessly with EBTG's Tracey Thorne, John delivers up a love song capable in its own way of rivaling John Martyn's 'Couldn't Love You More'. "Francis Bacon and The Dolomites, ballet dancers with or without tights. Central Park on an Autumn day will always be stunning and never cliched. All these things are just disappointing, all these things are just disappointing compared to you."
Having been inspired to write, in part by a speech given on creativity by John Cleese, and in part by his Icelandic partner, John Grant has once again proven, as if proof were needed, just what a formidable song writing talent he has. De-camping once again to Dallas (The scene of his first solo triumph) for the collaborative process of transforming his songs into reality has also worked wonders; switching the darkness for sunshine has elevated his work to provide much more positivity than despair.
'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' is another stunning album from John Grant and will undoubtedly be on nearly all of the year end lists, I would suggest you don't wait that long to hear it for yourself.
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