Release Date: Oct 12, 2018
Record label: PTKF
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Let's say, for a second, that your only impression of master balladeer John Grant is the cover of this album. You don't know that this mountain of a man lives in Iceland, an ocean away from his homeland in the northern states. You don't know either the Warren Zevon-esque, autumnal snark of his earlier days, nor the sneaky fingers stuffing electropop down the spine of each new record.
The thing about John Grant is no one has quite figured out what the thing about John Grant is. He's described his new album as "more of an amalgamation of who I am" providing the perfect riposte to those who believe we find ourselves as teenagers before settling into a mold for the rest of life. Grant is 50 now and still moving, reaching for something else.
On Love Is Magic, John Grant lets the electronics that have lurked around the edges of his music since 2013's Pale Green Ghosts finally take center stage. To make his fourth solo album, he recruited Ben "Benge" Edwards, with whom he worked on Mr. Dynamite, the debut from his dark electro-pop side project Creep Show. Though this transformation was a long time coming, it's still remarkable just how liberating it is for Grant's music: He switches even more nimbly from cutting wit to heartache to romance, both ironic and genuine, on Love Is Magic's snarky funk-pop and sentimental ballads.
By now we've all heard the tales of John Grant's storied and turbulent past. His well-publicised struggles with his sexuality, battles with crippling anxiety and tumultuous dalliances with the twin demons of drugs and alcohol. It's part of what's made his music so immersive and appealing, especially since his solo career kick-started in scintillating form with 2010's 'Queen of Denmark'.
On Love Is Magic, John Grant - everyone's favourite "back from the brink" baritone - has splintered into a mass of mini John Grants, each with their own attitude, outlook, advice and voice. There's the sensitive one who cries for love past (Is He Strange), the bitchy, sarcastic one who isn't quite as headstrong as you think (Diet Gum), and the much-adored/reviled foul-mouthed one, who reels off insults and put downs (Metamorphosis, Smug Cunt). This time, the personas are back with the electronic bubbles and pops that first appeared on 2013's Pale Green Ghosts, and later on Grant's collaboration with Wrangler as part of Creep Show.
Listening to John Grant's fourth solo album, it's difficult to believe that he turned 50 this year: like all of his work it's cut through with melancholy and darkness in places, but Love Is Magic is nonetheless the liveliest and most playful record he's released. This is in part because of the way it sounds. Grant's previous albums have managed to successfully pair piano-led ballads with big beats and analogue synths, but the more acoustic material is all but banished here - it's his most electronic album to date.
A silly, smutty slice of arch brilliance that also makes room for quiet introspection, the American musicians's fourth album is an accomplished balancing act An epic of squelching synthesisers and breathlessly far-ranging lyrics - touching on everything from broccoli and cheese to ISIS - John Grant's fourth solo album, 'Love Is Magic' leaves nothing untouched. An often absurd search for meaning in a world jammed full of white noise, violence and distraction, the prevailing message beneath the onslaught is a simple one: "Love is magic, whether you like it or not". Pursuing a slinking strain of electronica, often bringing to mind the campy gasps that punctuate Sébastien Tellier's 'Sexuality' - 'Love is Magic' is jam-packed with arch humour.
The sound is razor sharp: deep, rib-shaking synths and tingling sequencers mix with impossibly punchy percussion and feather-like melodies. And, as you'd expect, the words don't take a back seat in this '80s-inspired soundscape; it wouldn't be a John Grant record without his signature storytelling. Little can prepare you for the sonic assault of the first minute of opening track "Metamorphosis".
Here at John Grant's fourth album, we know very well not to trust any semblance of normalcy. If there's a folk song base, it's also littered with clever obscenities. If it presents like a rock opera like 2015's Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, prepare for lyrical head-scratchers like 'Magma Arrives'. The music is like a haunted house where rock and roll used to live.
A great many people will love John Grant's fourth solo album, and they will not be wrong to do so. They might well be drawn to the idiosyncrasies, and to the way his increasing use of electronics has led him to an album on which the squelch of analogue synths all but drowns out pianos and acoustic guitars ("It's the sound I've always dreamt of," Grant told Uncut). They might adore the kaleidoscopic nature of the lyrics, which skip from yeast infections to Islamic State to broccoli with cheese sauce in a couple of lines.
A never less than excellent lyricist, it was when John Grant went solo with 2010's 'Queen Of Denmark' that his capacity for beautifully balanced wit and imagery truly emerged. Its title track included the gem, "I hope you know that all I want from you is sex, to be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear." 'Ernest Borgnine' on the follow up, 'Pale Green Ghosts', and 'Voodoo Doll' from 2015's 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' highlighted his deft touch with complex subject matter, while his musical template continued its sizeable strides from the 70s AOR core of his debut. Earlier this year came 'Mr Dynamite', an album made by Grant with electro band Wrangler under the name Creep Show.