John Grant returned with his fourth album last month, gifting us with electro-pop funk vibes on Love is Magic. Declan O’Dwyer reviews…
Love is Magic is the fourth solo album released by John Grant. In that time since his debut record, 2010’s Queen of Denmark it is fair to say he has become an indie darling. He has rarely put a foot wrong in his solo career so far. As the albums have progressed his music has become more electronic based and that is certainly the case on this LP, his most electronic thus far. Lyrically he has also been outspoken and that continues with his not-so thinly veiled sexual references. John Grant does not do subtle.
On the opening track ‘Metamorphosis’, Grant’s voice is deranged, which fits in with the crazy sci-fi type style of the music. He is making social comments that can be a little hard to decipher due to the nature of his voice. On the middle section of the track the mood changes as Grant speaks about the death of his mother. His voice is echo laden, which gives it a kind of unearthly feel when singing about such an emotive matter. The song then reverts back to its wackier style. Do I like this track or not? I honestly don’t know.
The album starts on a very bright note, which quickly changes with the title track, this is unquestionably the highlight of the album. The electropop is not overstated and could be more broadly classed as a song in a more conventional sense. There is a nice build up to the chorus throughout. When he sings ‘Love is Magic’, you believe him, which is the case with all good songs. ‘Tempest’ is more downbeat than the one that preceded it, as the music has a kind of Space Invaders meets Mike Oldfield’s ’Tubular Bells’ feel. Alienation is a recurring theme throughout, which could possibly hark back to Grants own childhood;
“Come play Tempest with me… or maybe centipede… we can hang out in the mall… it’s where I feel at home… and I don’t want to be alone…”
Pac-Man is alive and well on the intro to ‘Preppy Boy’. These lyrics can either reek of inverted snobbery or honesty depending which side of the fence you are on. The preppy boy in question is undoubtedly a product of the corporate consumerism ideal, that resonated throughout the States during the 80’s. Remember the character Gordon Gekko’s, “Greed is Good” quote, in the movie that held a mirror to that attitude more than any other during that decade, namely Wall Street.
On ‘Smug Cunt’, Grant could be talking about the same person but while he was a social climber on ‘Preppy Boy’, on this track he is swallowed whole by corruption and power with Grant’s attitude much darker towards the protagonist throughout this song.
“All the girls think your hot stuff… even though your hands are covered in blood…”
These are lyrics that could be used in a 21st century re-imagining of Dylan’s Masters of War, as these people who send others to war are not directly affected by it;
“You hide in your mansion… while young peoples blood… flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud…”
‘He Got His Mothers Hips’ is a much more playful number, as it takes itself a lot less seriously. Whilst ‘Diet Gum’ is the object of distain, at times directed at another person, but it’s not too hard to see that he is really taking aim at himself. He looks to be using his pseudo-intelligence as a crutch and purposely sounds pretentious so as to not confuse the listener about his insecurities. In the opening lines he lays bare his imagined power over the aforementioned person;
“I manipulate, that’s what I do… I manipulate, that’s what I’m doing to you… that smile on your face was designed by me… I fucking curated it, like magically…”
‘The Common Snipe’ is like the intro to a Krautrock song that no one ever heard. This track is drenched in metaphors as he likens the mating rituals of different birds to humans.
The album ends with the track ‘Touch and Go’, which is his paean to Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, a transgender person who served in Iraq for the U.S. army. Manning had access to classified information that troubled her. She gave this information to WikiLeaks but a hacker reported her to the government, where Manning received a 35 year jail sentence. She was later pardoned by Obama as it did not aid the enemy. I found the song however largely forgettable.
John Grant fans will find a lot to mull over here. His previous work has been suggesting he was building up to this type of album. It could be loosely described as a concept album, as the 80s theme is used throughout. If one was cruel they could call it the best eighties album released this year, but that would be unfair. It will be interesting to see where Grant goes next. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went in a different direction. It might even be time for a different sound, as to keep evolving as an artist. Jack White did it this year, albeit with very mixed results. An enjoyable album in the main, but maybe an ever so slight dip in form.
Songs worth putting on repeat: ‘Love is Magic’, ‘Smug Cunt’ and ‘Is He Strange’