John Grant - 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure'
I’m still not entirely sure what residency rules we need to apply for artists not actually from Nordic countries but who reside there. I think we tend to bend the rules according to the artist, and how much we like them. In John Grants case, he has adopted Iceland emphatically, and uses Icelandic musicians, so that's an easy call to make. And of course we love his music too, and seeing him at the Bridgewater Hall at the beginning of this year (or was it the end of last year), was probably the gig of the year (or erm… last year).
Anyway his new Album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ has been out a few weeks, and it’s been rotating on my music playlist pretty much continuously ever since. Now I have to say straight up, that as much as I like John Grant, I've always found a few of his tracks difficult to get my head around – the curious mix of acoustic piano based songs followed by a blast of big electronica doesn’t always quite work for me, and it did take me a while to get to love ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. And whilst its true to say that again not every track resonates in the same way, i've definitely fallen for ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ a lot quicker.
After the typically experimental and fairly strange ‘Intro’, we launch straight into the track ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ and both lyrically and musically it’s a real highlight of the album. Grants vocals resonate so perfectly, positively oozing with such quality and confidence, and he has the ability to deliver telling lines in such an understated way, particularly in that opening track - ‘but there are children who have cancer, so all bets are off, because I can't compete with that’. And the beautiful melody is backed by the most exquisite orchestral sounds.
Whilst there are tracks such as ‘Snug Slacks’ which as expected don’t appeal as much to me, the highlights are exceptional. ‘You & Him’ is typically brutal in its lyrics, and pretty funny too – ‘You and Hitler ought to get together, learn to knit and wear matching sweaters’. And ‘Down Here’ brilliantly combines the acoustic guitar and electronic sounds, and is a beautiful and apparently effortless ballad. ‘Global Warming’ connects in a similar way, whilst the pre Album single ‘Disappointing’ has 80’s style disco backing singers under Tracey Thorns haunting vocals - only John Grant can pull of something quite so unusual and well delivered.
Almost an hour long, ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ is an epic 14 track portrayal of another period in Grant's life, perhaps less bitter than ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ but equally profound and pointed. I am hoping that his next release doesn’t go further down the route of bold experimental electronica, because I’m easily pleased when he opts for the simpler acoustic and piano based tracks . But he has clearly earned the right to do whatever he wants, and I have no doubt that whatever he does it will be equally clever and totally engaging. John Grant is an artist without equal, and ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ is rewarding, entertaining and pretty spectacular.
Nordic Music Review 9 /10