John Grant at O2 Academy Leeds, 30 January 2019, from £25 - Book now
We all know the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. With this in mind, what can we learn about John Grant from the above image? Frankly, that the man who’ll be greeting you at the O2 Academy in Leeds on 30 January is a creative tour-de-force.
John Grant’s 2018 album, Love Is Magic, is a masterclass in song-writing, production and hilarity. ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ is a prime example of John Grant’s distinct approach on this record. Over the opening side-chained synthesiser hook, Grant sets up a narrative about a prolific dancer who views himself a lothario (“They say his salsa workshops are a harbinger of doom yeah yeah”). The genius of John Grant is exemplified in how the song grows with the expansion of this central premise. With each new introduced instrument, Grant captures the character’s strut and sleaze with the wide range of sounds on display reflecting the central narrative.
This approach doesn’t let up on the rest of the album. You need only look at the songs that flank ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’: a six minute krautrock epic titled ‘Smug C***’ and a 7 minute electro track, with a monologue from the perspective of a ranting hipster titled ‘Diet Gum’. The album is a barbed and joyous masterpiece. In 1986, Frank Zappa asked the world Does Humour Belong In Music? – John Grant responds with a resounding yes! However, his cynical hilarity can often go unnoticed given the quality of the arrangements on display. It’s rare to listen to an album that is so deftly arranged, performed and produced, a point illustrated by the latest single ‘Preppy Boy’.
Still, the album isn’t without its less cynical moments. The lead single ‘Love Is Magic’, a break up song, still holds to the fact that love is messy but wonderful. This is followed by ‘Tempest’, a piece of music that is laden with the 8-bit sounds of early video games whilst the lyrics discuss Grant’s retreat from a cruel world into retro games. We come full circle back to that initial genius of Grant who knows exactly how to utilise sound to reflect lyrical themes and narratives.
If the reading of this preview is your introduction to John Grant, you may be getting an impression of him as a cynical tragi-comic. Whilst that is certainly true about his latest output, this is a very incomplete picture of the man himself, as his song-writing range is astounding. Since 2010’s Queen of Denmark, humour has been present on all four of his studio albums but is a less defining feature. Listen to the beautiful tracks ‘TC & Honeybear’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter To Him’ to get an understanding of his range and his abilities not only as a songwriter, but as a composer and arranger. If you’re sold on the man, his 2014 live album with the BBC Philharmonic is a stunning record that captures all sides of his genius.
Though it’s happening right at the start of the year, this will undoubtedly be one of the gigs of 2019.