Where To Start With... John Grant
Singer-songwriter John Grant has, we think it's fair to say, been on one hell of a journey. Born in Michigan and raised in Colorado by orthodox Methodist parents, Grant's upbringing was by all accounts a difficult one; as a young man his emerging sexuality put him at odds with his parents' beliefs and made him a target for bullying during his school years. In 1988 he decided to leave America behind to study languages in Germany, where he stayed for six years before eventually returning in 1994, moving to Denver and hooking up with musician Chris Pearson.
Together they formed The Czars, who went on to record and release six albums together between 1996 and 2004, when the band released what would turn out to be their final album, Goodbye. Adored by critics but largely ignored by the record-buying public, The Czars eventually began to dissolve in the months following Goodbye's release, with each member leaving one by one until Grant was the only one left. For a while he continued to tour under the Czars name, but by then his increasing dependence on alcohol and cocaine was beginning to take its toll on his health – so much so that Grant decided to quit the music business altogether.
Relocating to New York and working as a waiter in Manhattan's Gramercy Tavern, Grant decided it was time to confront his addictions before they consumed him and began attending AA meetings. Despite this, he continued to write music and was eventually persuaded by friends from Texan folk-rock group Midlake to return to the studio. With them as his backing band, Grant began recording songs for what would become his solo debut, The Queen of Denmark.
Released in 2010 on the Bella Union label which had put out a couple of The Czars' albums, his debut arrived with next to no fanfare, but soon became a word-of-mouth hit with critics and audiences alike. From a musical point of view its songs weren't a million miles from the balladry of his former band, but his lyrics had become much sharper, more sarcastic, self-aware and often downright funny.
However, it was with his second solo offering Pale Green Ghosts that Grant really began to hit his creative stride. A much more dancefloor-focussed sound allowed Grant to express his love for electronic music, the album climbed its way into the UK Album Chart's Top 20 and earned him numerous award nominations, including one at the BRITs for Best International Male. His third album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure arrived in 2015 and saw Grant continue to blend powerful ballads with more electronic sounds, reaching the Top 5 in the UK and yielding his biggest hit single to date in 'Disappointing'.
This week he returns with Love Is Magic, the follow-up to Grey Tickles, Black Pressure and his fourth solo album in total. Announced in July this year, the new album is co-produced by Grant himself and Ben Edwards of electronic trio Wrangler, with whom Grant released a collaborative album earlier this year under the name Creep Show, as well as Midlake's Paul Alexander. Recorded between Edwards' studio in Cornwall and Alexander's in Texas, the new album includes singles 'He's Got His Mother's Hips', 'Touch & Go' and 'Is He Strange', and may well be his most electronic album yet.
You can find the video for the album's title track below, beneath that we've picked out five of Grant's finest tunes to date as a guide for those new to his work...
One of the highlights from his debut solo LP, 2010's The Queen of Denmark, 'Marz' has plenty in common with the balladry which often featured in his work with his former band The Czars, but here as well as on the rest of his debut its in the lyrics that a change in Grant's mindset is evident. On a record largely about Grant coming to terms with his identity, 'Marz' contrasts with the sardonic lyrics that had begun to populate his songs and is perhaps Grant's most unguarded moment on his excellent debut.
Grant's critically-acclaimed sophomore album Pale Green Ghosts was something of a stylistic leap away from his debut, with much more focus on electronic sounds and fewer of the piano-led ballads that featured on his debut, saying in a 2013 interview: “I would have done [this album] much earlier if I’d had the tools or known how to do it.” 'Black Belt' is a case in point, its infectious bassline underpinning some of Grant's most withering lyrics to date: “What you got is a black belt in BS / But you can't hawk your pretty wares up in here anymore”.
Another cut from Pale Green Ghosts, 'GMF' is proof that few people besides Grant can do self-deprecation with quite the same level of barbed wit. If there's a more gloriously sarcastic chorus than the one featured in this towering ballad, we haven't heard it.
In between releasing his third album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure and his fourth, Grant embarked on a side project with one of his longtime musical heroes, former Cabaret Voltaire vocalist Stephen Mallinder, releasing an album together earlier this year under the name Creep Show. Mr. Dynamite is a more experimental dive into electronica than the material on his solo albums, but there are one or two outstanding moments, the best of which being the album's lead-off single 'Modern Parenting'.
Our final pick is arguably the highlight of Grant's most recent full-length offering Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. Recruiting Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn as his duet partner, Grant delivers an irresistibly danceable slice of wonky electronica while listing things he finds beautiful, all of which pale in comparison to the person he loves.
Love Is Magic is available in hmv stores from Friday October 12th - you can also find it here in our online store.