Too much humour, too little heart
LOVE IS MAGIC
John Grant Bella Union
How you feel about John Grant’s fourth solo album may well depend on whether you can make it past the musically schizoid and lyrically bewildering opening track. Entitled Metamorphosis, it improbably combines abrasively camp, comic and highly stylised electroshock cabaret (in which he extravagantly declaims non sequiturs such as “Baby’s in the whitest house playing with his toys / Earthquakes! Forest fires! Hot Brazilian Boys!”) with a gentle, melodic meditation on the death of a loved one (“As I enjoyed distraction, she just slipped away”).
The heart of this song is a visceral evocation of numbing grief, but the effect is likely to be too disorienting for any but his most dedicated admirers. It is as if he is intentionally smashing distinct aspects of his musical persona together – savagely witty club banger and tender balladeer – just to see which is left standing. Such is the force of Grant’s showmanship that his sensitive side is all but overwhelmed, to the album’s detriment.
Grant’s metamorphosis has been fascinating to watch. The 50 year-old was a late bloomer, perfecting his songcraft on six unjustly overlooked albums of indie Americana with the Czars. Breaking free of songwriting convention on 2010’s Queen of Denmark, he unleashed his personality in a riot of gorgeous melodies and arrestingly honest, streamof-consciousness lyrics.
The sense of struggle that infused Grant’s early work may have been particular to his experience – he’s a gay man from the repressive Midwest, where he selfmedicated to combat anxiety – but it tapped into universal emotions, and was rendered even more accessible by his parodic soft-rock tendencies. Yet as each album has become more electronically driven and lyrically outrageous, Grant is in danger of painting himself into a niche.
Which is a pity, because Love Is Magic is full of songs that deserve to be heard by the widest possible audience. The title track is a heart-bursting portrait of a lonely man being reassured that love is worth the effort. Set to luxurious billowing synths, Grant’s creamy baritone is immensely affecting. Is He Strange is another deeply moving ballad, its mood of stately drama evoking the end of an affair with a tone of bittersweet wisdom.
But such emotionally
PAINTED INTO A CORNER Emotional songs are interspersed with sarcastic pen portraits