We need more shoo-do-bop-bops in contemporary popular music, of that I have know doubt at all.
My very first thought on hearing John Grant was realising a new album... Will it be as good as Pale Green Ghosts? Will it be my album of the year (as that was in 2013)? Can he do it again?
The weight of too much expectation is never a good thing when it comes to judging new music. When an artist delivers an album that makes us laugh, cry and see the world in a different way, they're damned when it comes to the follow up. So while Grey Tickles isn't quite the album Green Ghosts was, it's still an amazing piece of work from an artist with one of the most individual and entertaining voices in music.
The record opens (and closes) with the popular Corinthians wedding reading, "Love is patient, love is kind..." and certain tracks suggest that Grant is a little more happy and settled in his love life than on the previous album...
Sure, I like to see the fellasThat's from Global Warming, a typically sly and witty JG number in which he also wonders how he can possibly live in a world without Madeline Kahn (to be honest, I didn't even know she was dead, but it was 16 years ago, so you'd think he'd be over it by now) before complaining that "global warming is ruining my fair complexion". I found myself wondering if this was the kind of song Morrissey might write if he'd finally step out of the closet and lighten up a bit. We'll probably never know.
Skateboard in their Vans
Stripped down to their shorts
So they can work on their tans
I know I shouldn't care
'Cause I'm a taken man
But I guess you can look
Nobody said that you can't...
So, yes, there are love songs here. Most notably Disappointing (with guest vocals from Tracy Thorn) in which Grant lists everything he finds disappointing "compared to you"...
Frances Bacon"There's nothing more beautiful than your smiles as it conquers your face" is a cliche, but one written and delivered with the punch of poetry. And that's what makes Grant stand out as the best lyricist of the 21st Century.
And the Dolomites
With or without tights
Central Park on an Autumn day
Will always be stunning
And never cliche...
Elsewhere, he brings the lust on Snug Slacks, coming on like a gay Prince and out-camping both the Scissor Sisters and Stephin Merritt in the process. It is the filthiest song you'll hear all year (yes, I know I said that was Philomena by The Decemberists... but I had to reconsider), but also one of the funniest, particularly when John tries to woo his fella by getting him tickets to see Joan Baez...
Oh, I guess I misunderstoodOK, so the references are pretty obscure, but if you get them, you'll be howling. And if you don't, it really doesn't matter: it's all in the delivery.
I've never heard of Joan As Policewoman
But I do love me some Angie Dickinson
And let's be clear: Joan Baez makes
GG Allin look like Charlene Tilton
And then comes Voodoo Doll, the finest 'cheer up, it'll be all right' song you'll hear this year. If only we could use a voodoo doll to make our sad friends feel better as John does here. It'd be a much more positive use of creole magic than sticking pins in your enemies...
I made a voodoo doll of youHowever, if you think all this means John has left behind the arch bitterness and cynicism that marked much of his previous work, you can rest assured you'll find plenty of that here too: most notably on the stunning You And Him (featuring Amanda Palmer: damn, but he sure knows how to pick his collaborators) in which he suggests a new beau for his ex-boyfriend...
Then I gave it some chicken soup
Did you feel any warmth down deep inside?
Did you feel how your blues went away and died?
You and Hitler oughta tie the knot(I had to google Heavy Metal Parking Lot to check if it was a real thing or just the product of Grant's wicked imagination. I'm not sure which would have been better. Sadly, although it does exist, it's not a reality show where Lemmy, Lars and Clownface from Slipknot work as valet parking attendants... with hilarious consequences. But it ought to be.)
You could do it at Taco Bell
To spice up the plot
Get on the phone
And call your buddy Pol Pot
You could play some Twister
And watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot
I could go on, but the fact that I could write about - and heavily quote - just about every track on this album should be enough to convince me. John Grant has done it again. He may have Grey Tickles (an Icelandic expression for middle age) and Black Pressure (Turkish for nightmares) but he'll forever have my respect and admiration.
Now I'm really scared about his next record...
And that was my year in music. Which of your favourites did I miss out? Do let me know. Happy Christmas. See you in '16.