Review Summary: A fine album that would have benefited from more forays into electronica in its mid to final third. The ballads are beautiful, even breathtaking when O'Connor features, but as Grant displays on the more experimental tracks, he is capable of so much more
'I wonder who they'll get to play me- maybe they'll dig up Richard Burton's corpse'
On 2010's 'The Queen of Denmark' John Grant was brilliantly, beautifully bitter and angry. The combination of Midlake's luscious instrumentation behind his deceptively smooth baritone and poisonously funny lyrics produced one of the records of the year by anyone's standards. To borrow a cliche, the more things have changed for Grant in the intervening three years the more they have stayed the same. He's still lyrically fixated upon a former lover but musically he's sprung a surprise- opener 'Pale Green Ghosts' is the now-familiar tale of woe and loneliness sound tracked not with strings but a pounding electronic beat. It's a downright eerie start, and that Grant not only makes it work but manages to sound recognizably like himself is a tribute to his talent and the power of that voice. When he segues into the positively danceable 'Black Belt' we are truly in alien territory. Were it not for the trademark brilliance of a line like 'Etch a sketch your way out of this, reject' we might as well be in Ibiza. That we are not is confirmed by the stunning 'GMF', notable not only for some of the funniest lyrics Grant has yet written but also for the appearance of Sinead O'Connor. The addition of her harmonies is a stroke of genius and she is sorely missed on 'Vietnam', a mid-tempo plodder where shorn of the trifecta of her vocals, electronica and Midlake, Grant proves himself to be human after all.
Not entirely coincidentally, things pick up again when O'Connor returns on 'It Doesn't Matter To Him'. This central part of the album is curious- it feels like Grant has abandoned experimentation in favour of what sounds like the more prosaic cuts from 'Queen of Denmark'. Welcomingly, those pulsing beats return on the staggering 'You Don't Have To', where Grant memorably intones 'Remember when we used to *** all night long....neither do I because I always passed out' over a shimmering dance track. If there were clubs in purgatory, one imagines its inhabitants might be dancing to this. The album proper ends with its most nakedly emotional cut: on 'Glacier', electronics are stripped back to leave just that voice, a gorgeous piano line and strings and a gut-wrenching metaphor. Not a perfect album, then, but an exceptionally brave one, both in terms of its lyrical content and the way in which it moves an established sound forward.