One does have to wonder what a journey into the mind of John Grant would be like. With critics falling over themselves to deliver their praises following the success of his two solo albums, 2010’s Queen of Denmark and 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts, the former Czars frontman appeared to be at his constructive and creative peak. A mere two years later however, and he’s gone and done it again.
Just like his previous creations, the interestingly named Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – supposedly a translation of the Icelandic for ‘mid-life crisis’ and the Turkish for ‘nightmare’ – is a compelling, highly flamboyant, often outrageous record that bears all the hallmarks of a singer/songwriter at the top of his game. His penchant for brutal honesty, self-deprecating lyrics, and outlandish melodic structures, is still very much apparent here, but this time around Grant finally appears comfortable in his own skin. Whereas there were elements of personal uncertainty behind his earlier work, as he came to terms with his new found status as a recording artist, the Grant that recorded Grey Tickles, Black Pressure seems far more assured, oozing a boisterous confidence that gives the record a real sense of drive and purpose.
As a lyricist Grant continues to operate at a level above his peers, with no one capable of doing close-to-the-bone, black humour quite like him. “I can’t believe I missed New York during the ’70s, I could’ve got a head start in the world of disease” he eulogises on the album’s excellent title track, followed by “You and Hitler ought to get together. You ought to learn to knit and wear matching sweaters” on ‘You and Him’, or “All I’ve got are First World problems, I guess I should get some of the Third World kind” on ‘Global Warming’ – only minor examples of the brilliantly wry wit that flows through the album.
In terms of style, Grant has dumbed down the dark, edgy synth he so successfully utilised on Pale Green Ghosts in favour of a somewhat glossier sound, but his favoured backing score is far from the only style employed on the record. Apart from the delightfully poppy, disco bravado of single release ‘Disappointing’ ft Tracey Thorn, there’s also elements of robotic funk (‘Snug Slacks’), queasy alternative rock (‘You and Him’), space age electronica (‘Black Blizzard’), and dreamy, avant garde ballads (‘Magma Arrives’), all showcasing an envious level of variety.
Ingenious, imperious, and completely absorbing, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is a more-than-worthy successor to its two forbearers, and a record that will surely cement John Grant’s status as one of the artists of the decade.