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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

John Grant: The Greatest Motherfucker You're Ever Gonna Meet

Posted by on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Bella Union-Partisan
  • Bella Union-Partisan
John Grant
Pale Green Ghosts
(Bella Union-Partisan Records)

I am the greatest motherfucker you're ever gonna meet / from the top of my head down to the tips of the toes on my feet / So, go ahead and love me while it's still a crime / but don't forget you could be laughing 65% more of the time.
—John Grant, "GMF"

Recorded in Reykjavík with GusGus's Biggi Veira, former Czars front man and Midlake sideman John Grant's Pale Green Ghosts is one of the year's most surprising records—it's also one of the best.

I could tell from the first few electronic pulses that I would like it, but in truth, I'd already read a few things about the album—the Other Music summary, the Pitchfork review—so I had some idea as to what to expect: a gut-wrenchingly confessional song cycle with none of the reedy singing that makes so many coffeehouse troubadours so un-listenable.

And that's because this isn't a folk record and Grant's rich baritone voice is hardly reedy. Nor does he over-enunciate every word, a musical-theater trope drives me around the bend. No, this is dance music. And fuck-you music. But the beats never overwhelm the lyrics, and he barely raises his beautiful voice, which just makes his statements sting all the more, i.e. "You think I hate myself, but it's you I hate." That's right: his sophomore release recounts a breakup. It's also his first full-length since revealing his HIV+ status. Suffice to say: anger fuels this art.

At times, Grant reminds me of everyone from Scott Walker and David Bowie to the Hidden Cameras—even a little Elton John—but summarizing his music by way of influences obscures the intense originality that shines through (though the closing track, "Glacier," evokes Bowie's piano-drenched "Lady Grinning Soul" in a rather wonderful way). Other references are more explicit, since he specifically cites Ernest Borgnine, Woody Allen, Jane Eyre, and "Richard Burton's corpse."

His backup singer is also a powerful presence in her own right. Sometimes she echoes what he says, sometimes she responds to it, and the equally iconoclastic Sinéad O'Connor, who's turned into an internet punching bag of late, has never sounded better (for my money, her presence on this record marks one of the most surprising things about it). Interestingly, the five tracks on which she appears arrive at the album's midpoint—its white-hot molten core, you might say.



Aside from the voice, the lyrics, and the Eno-inspired washes of synth, Grant incorporates bass, drums, piano, saxophone, and strings. I'm sure there are guitars in the mix, but they defer to every other instrument, which is refreshing, simply because confessional songwriting and balefully plucked guitar can get old.

While the haunting title refers to the Colorado trees Grant would pass on his way to the only gay dance bar in town, Pale Green Ghosts is also a very funny album—at least to those who share his dark, self-lacerating sense of humor, and anyone who can joke about their battles with alcoholism, depression, and one-night stands is all right by me. At the very least: it's the opposite of denial.

It's been awhile since I've heard a dance record with this much heart. Or a singer-songwriter record with this much soul. And although it will surely piss off those who believe that profanity is the realm of the stupid and the ignorant, the smart, sophisticated Grant also swears like a motherfucker. And makes it feel like a kiss.



Pale Green Ghosts is out now on Partisan. Grant plays Barboza on June 20.

 

Comments (4) RSS

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1
Second time I've watched the GMF video today. It's good!
Posted by ratzkywatzky on June 12, 2013 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Kathy Fennessy 2
Agreed! I've lived with the album for a week now, and that song is permanently lodged in my head.
Posted by Kathy Fennessy http://kathleencfennessy.blogspot.com/ on June 12, 2013 at 8:22 PM · Report this
3
This is great, thanks for the post.
Posted by Foonken2 on June 14, 2013 at 7:52 AM · Report this
Kathy Fennessy 4
@3 I'm glad! My favorite record of the year (so far).
Posted by Kathy Fennessy http://kathleencfennessy.blogspot.com/ on June 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Report this

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