Pale Green Ghosts
I’ve been a bit slow to move on this album, John Grant’s second. But for most of the end of 2013 and for all of this year so far I’ve been fairly well consumed by it, listening to it over and again, its songs falling into me, existing within me in much the same way as any new SJD album. And like so much of SJD’s music Grant’s template here is to take great pop songwriting and place it, LCD Soundsystem-styles, inside electronica shapes.
Grant, former lead singer of The Czars, has an astounding gravitas when he drawls across an autobiographical ballad (It Doesn’t Matter To Him), he’s capable of humour and heartbreak, often in equal doses, spread across the same songs in fact.
It doesn’t get more starkly confessional than the song Ernest Borgnine – where Grant confirms that he is HIV-positive. That you could dance to that confession as a soft-jazz saxophone winds itself around a coiled, gently propulsive after-hours groove makes the song all the more remarkable.
There’s something huge in the sound of this album – and by that I don’t mean that the enormity is the actual sonic/s of the record but rather the way these deceptively pulverising words are buried inside head-nod tunes, hiding out in plain clothes, sneaking up on you as you attempt to go with the flow of the music, lured in by the feel and flow of the music; knocked out, doubled-over by the gut-punch of the lyrics.
I was first hipped to Grant’s songwriting prowess when I hear a Sinead O’Connor cover of a song from his first solo album. It was the standout from that set by O’Connor – she embodied it in that way she does, inhabiting it, I was convinced she’d written a new Last Day of Our Acquaintance. But no, it was a cover. So to John Grant I went. And though I could pick individual moments off his Queen of Denmark and hold them up high above single frames from this record, Pale Green Ghosts feels like he’s creating a new language-space, a new way to frame and hang the words. For that, as a record, it’s both more surprising and exciting.
At any rate, the real worry, selfishly speaking, is the idea – reinforced every time I listen to this – that time may indeed be running out for one of the great modern songwriters.
I can understand how some might hear this and feel cold as a result – as if there’s no actual warmth in the record, in both the words and music, but I’m pulled in by it. I enjoy spending time with it. I wish it all the best, want to reassuringly put an arm around it; for it feels, at times, that the music on this record has done exactly that for me. I feel the warmth of this record. As well as the weight of it. A bloody tonne.