What to say about this album? Or the man behind it? His story is at times harrowing, sad, joyous, in fact the very fact he’s made a new album and put it out given what he’s gone through in the last year is an achievement in itself. A former frontman, beset by a lack of faith in his own skills and voice, time spent int he musical wilderness was saved by American outfit Midlake when they persuaded him to record an album with them. The result of that was the fantastic Queen Of Denmark, which layered piano and velvet, dual-tracked vocals, disguising the extremities of emotion in almost MOR style balladry. But underneath the surface of the standard musical structure lurks darkness at every turn. And The Queen Of Denmark was about his happiness spent with a partner, then Pale Green Ghosts is the bleakness of post-break up, taken up a notch with the announcement, onstage, that he was HIV+. Others would have retreated into solitude, but Grant simply confronted this head on, and the result is an album that’s accessible immeadiately, then gradually snares you, as the emotional impact the words hits home.
Made with Biggi Viera of Gus Gus, there’s an electronic slant on it, but it’s much more than just some synths added to Grant’s syrupy voice. For me, I’ve actually become obsessed with the album. I tend to listen to new albums three or four times over to get to know them in the first week, but occasionally I end up with a mild addiction, and in this case I’ve listened to it over 30 times in the first two weeks. I find myself waking up in the night and the morning with songs stuck in my head (the fist in a velvet glove GMF, or the ehtereal title track) and it’s pretty much taken me over this month.
There’s a brilliant interview with him in the Guardian that’s worth reading too:
Laid bare, Pale Green Ghosts is one of the albums of the year.
Brother David – Deptford Goth – Life After Defo
Similary sprung on me this month, by a friend and while at first impression it just sounds a little like identikit male-voice, lots of reverb, dubby Croydon stuff, it’s a real grower. It’s not so much the vocals or the fx, but the melodies, and they’ve really stuck with me. two of my favourite albums this year so far. There’s a good interview with him in the Guardian as well. Enjoy!
5 thoughts on “April: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts”
yes yes yes I like this very much.
You are right that it is immediately accessible but that it also reveals itself over time too. This is quite rare as I find most albums are one or the other.
As this wasn’t reviewed by Pitchfork I didn’t even know this existed! I need to branch out from Pitchfork but have so little time I need the brothers direction.
Album of the month gladly received, thanks brother guy.
Brother Nolan’s reply:
First of all I take off my hat to you brother Guy. This is one of the best albums that we have been introduced to thus far.
I always think that a good album is when you like about 4-5 songs to start with and then after a few listens realise that the rest is just as good if not better.
On first listen or the 50th Black Belt is an amazing track, it’s catchy, the lyrics are angry, and funny at the same time. I think we all know a few Black Belts out there.
This album is versatile; and very catchy. The fact that Biggi Viera is involved with this album puts many of the dots together. There are few people that can simplify complicated music as Biggi.
There is a spitefulness throughout the album with a sprinkle of anger. His lyrics are the things you wish you would have said in an argument… only it’s two days later and you have come up with a brilliant response.
I’ve already told many people about this album, though I think it’s more of an album to listen to on your own instead of in the background at a dinner party. He has given you a view into his world and to appreciate it you need to let him into yours as well.
Once again brother Guy, a great selection this month!
Excellent stuff Nolan. You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s an album that’s great across the board, from the first listen, and once you’ve got the melodies and they’re familiar, those lyrics! Bleak, cutting, humorous, self-deprecating, at turns shatteringly sad and hilariously brilliant.
I can’t recommend this enough, and I’ve been doing this for everyone I know. And I cannot wait until the 15th May when I’ll see him at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I can’t wait just to see his beard, frankly. But he’s that amazing mix of power and vulnerability.
I’m a bonafide John Grant freak, so it’ll come as no surprise that I love this album. I was quite late to discovering his first solo effort, THE QUEEN OF DENMARK, but once it got its hooks into me, that was it. I can’t think of an album I’ve listened to for such a *sustained* period. I just didn’t get bored of it, and many of the songs of it still make well up when I think about them!
It’s hard to unravel John Grant from his own astonishing biography – tortured gay man with born-again Midwestern parents who disowned him, his first band (The Czars) relative failure and his subsequent addiction and sex issues (he’s just come out as HIV positive). And it’s partly because of the way he writes so personally. I know some find his lyrics almost awkwardly personal and they can sometimes spill out in a slightly bizarre way, phrasing wise, but that’s actually one of the things I love.
When PALE GREEN GHOSTS came out, it was received by open arms by the music press who hailed it as a) a huge departure from his previous album, with its new electro feel and b) a masterpiece. I’m not sure it’s *quite* both, but it’s not far off. Firstly, I don’t know if it is as much of a departure as everyone thinks it is. What it is is a pretty bi-polar record, torn between two directions, neither of them triumphant. The astonishing title track – surely one of his best songs – along with the brilliantly bitchy Black Belt and Sensitive New Age Guy reveal that his voice works surprisingly well with a dark, electronic backdrop – and that he’s found a new way to harness his anger. But for much of the rest of the album, the songs could easily have fitted into Queen of Denmark. And although I love each and every one of them, for me this dichotomy makes for a slightly unsatisfying listen.
Having said that, there’s so much that works. Sinead O’Connor’s backing vocals are sublime and add a whole layer to the songs, and the sheer talent and ambition on offer mean that Grant’s second album is still streets ahead of the competition. I think he just needs be wary of his next move, because his self-flaggelation can surely only sustain so many songs? In the meantime, we should just enjoy his talent, because it’s quite a thing to behold.
Gosh, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I just can’t get into this at all. I feel like it’s SO similar to a lot of stuff that’s out there, not least Matthew Dear, that he comes off second best in those comparisons. Perhaps I only have a certain amount of space in my life for dark, downbeat electronic music. I feel like the problem is me, not Mr D. Goth. What am I missing? How do I rectify this? I WANT to like this!