I have to say I've taken my eyes and ears off John Grant in recent years, having been very much taken, like much of the musical world, by his first two albums. Boy From Michigan his latest, is a reminder of what attracted me so much to him and his gifts and vision in the first place. Splendidly and sensitively produced by Cate Le Bon, it's a truly elegant, lyrical ride, with all the atmosphere of rich cinematic drama.
Mythic, mystic small town American life and the trauma it can visit on those who choose or have no choice but to be different. The kind of experience documented by John Cheever and Richard Yates, David Lynch, Virgin Suicides, Danny Darko and Six Feet Under. Grant is almost a short story writer in this respect, casting himself in the leading role each time, producing songs imbued with haunted melancholy and he's very much recovered his muse here I'd say.
Ferris wheels and girls called Cindy, maple trees and Five and Dimes, everything butressed by an electronic pulse that functions almost as a heartbeat. Grant of course has a wonderfully rich and nuanced baritone, but what's great about it here is that it's splendidly restrained, he controls his delivery masterfully with his narrative aims in mind. Generally those of doomed and thwarted romance.
Of course this is all grounded in Grant's sexuality and the implication of parental and communal rejection at the most vulnerable passage of teenage experience that still leaves an indelible hurt, an ache decades down the line.
There is a jarring moment halfway through the album with Rhetorical Figure when the record takes a hysterical, jaunty New Wave novelty turn that seems out of place with its bedfellows here, coming on like Trio meets Van Halen's Jump for some reason only known to itself. It doesn't work for me. Offbeat, self parody is always part of Grant's charm but this grates and it'll be a track I skip. Same goes for Your Portfolio a little later on. They're rare blemishes on a record that otherwise is the John Grant return to top form that I've been waiting for without even realising it.
As with the best storytellers he saves the best 'til almost last. Nine minute penultimate track The Only Baby where Grant takes aim at the Moral Majority and the people behind Donald Trump and lets them have it with both barrels. There's always a sadness about his best songs but they're redeemed utterly here by their sheer artistry and musical beauty and grace. He's really excelled himself this time. The record unfurls seamlessly like the most bingeable and atmospheric Netflix drama. An absolutely terrific album.