From “There’s no milk in the refrigerator. You’ll be hearing about it when you get home tonight” to “A new shooting, fresh for breakfast. This one’s in Florida not in Texas,” you’ve got to admire the bravery of American songwriter John Grant. He continues to document his inner thoughts, observations and experiences with such bold uncensored fearlessness that his lyrics really make him a stand out character within modern music. Yet the juxtaposition of inadvertently causing arguments within a relationship when forgetting to buy milk with America’s gun control ignorance, show that Grant wishes to express all unfiltered aspects of his modern life. Pairing the pedestrian with the profound instead of being controversial for the sake of it. It’s a methodology he continues to commit to his latest release.
There’s no denying that John Grant’s fourth album Love Is Magic is an acquired taste both lyrically and musically but those who have followed the Michigan-born musician’s catalogue won’t be surprised by his compositions. Although the uninitiated are educated straight away by his style with opener ‘Metamorphosis’. A track which encapsulates the album’s mood. A schizophrenic song that shows the two sides of John Grant’s multi-coloured personality.
Erratic poetry bookends the track as punching beats and sinister wayward chiptune buzz around suffocatively as John Grant speaks his first of many startling lines, one borrowed from a newspaper article: “14 year-old boy rapes 80-year-old man” and goes on later to name drop ISIS, “hot brazilian boys”, comedienne Sandy Duncan and Marvin Gaye – although the two last are less surprising because Grant often mentions pop culture in his lyrics. Yet in the middle of the track listeners are taking to a contrasting dreamy intermission, like an out-of-body experience from a Lynchian film, where John Grant ballads sensitively: “They took her in ambulance and that’s where she died.”
The subject of love and lust is also conveyed in two opposing manners. On one side of the coin are: ‘Is He Strange’, ‘Love Is Magic’ and ‘The Common Snipe’ which embrace its wizardry. The Elton John style piano piece ‘Is He Strange’ is remorseful and directly speaks apologetically to an ex-lover but the other two sum up the experience of love itself, suggesting it as a mental health problem with advantageous benefits on ‘Love Is Magic’ and studying the love attraction process within the bird kingdom on ‘The Common Snipe’ – with snippets of an Icelandic nature commentator adding to its interesting perspective.
Although love is well-worn subject within music, John Grant makes any subject interesting and the other side of the love coin is the audacious ‘Preppy Boy’ and ‘Diet Gum’. The former contains typically squelchy electro beats from Grant, as he reminiscences about the fantasies he had about certain type of boys at school. He hated them but also lusted over them. The fact that the tune sounds like it’s from the soundtrack of high school comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off adds to its environment.
While the Kraftwerk-meets-LCD Soundsystem ‘Diet Gum’ features Grant let loose on his extreme speech. He adopts a James Murphy-type conversational tone as he has a childish argument with an ex-flame. Unfortunately his choice of words including “Dr Turd Face” and irritating improvisational accent make the track cringeworthy and unlistenable.
Although John Grant has gained reputation for writing self-involved accounts, Love Is Magic does contain two tracks that look outwardly at other more political issues, such as the brutal ‘Smug Cunt’ which takes sniper aim at particular leaders, especially egocentric ones that believe that the girls think they’re studs and ‘Touch and Go’ which details Grant’s empathetic sympathy for Chelsea Manning– a controversial transgendered activist whom worked for both the US Army and WikiLeaks.
Just like its predecessor 2015’s Grey Tickles Black Pressure, Love Is Magic is an edgy electro wonderland with nods to 80’s new wave music but its synthesized world is made more colourful by his collaboration with two former associates: Benge from Wrangler, whom he has worked with on the side project Creep Show from earlier this year and Paul Alexander of Midlake on bass and backing vocals, for the second time after Grant’s debut Queen of Denmark. The result is a paradise of playful, soothing and unpredictable space-electronica that’s enjoyable even if John Grant’s occasional overbearing lyrics aren’t really your thing.