“Each record I make is more of an amalgamation of who I am,” says John Grant. “The more I do this, the more I trust myself, and the closer I get to making what I imagine in my head.”
So, what does John Grant’s imagination sound like on Love is Magic? Danny Wright got Tim Boddy and Hassan Anderson together to find out.
What are your general feelings towards John Grant and his music?
Hassan: I really loved Pale Green Ghosts. He’s a unique singer and can write well. His humour is a breath of fresh air, especially considering the fact that he tackles pretty heavy subject matter too. Rant over.
Tim: Yeah, I also got into him around that time; it was the film Weekend that really hooked me into his work. I then explored Queen of Denmark; that is probably one of my fave albums of the 00s. I quite frankly think he’s a treasure that needs to be protected at all costs. (Also, rant over.)
Two very good rants. So what do you make of Love Is Magic? It’s a bit of a sonic shift from Pale Green Ghosts.
Hassan: Agreed – I really like it though. It feels like he’s made the shift an authentic one. On Pale Green Ghosts there’s a combo of sort of guitar/piano-led ballads, then some disco/ electronic tracks too, and I remember being struck by how he managed to sit the two together so well. This new album obviously places him sonically in the former but it doesn’t feel like he’s done a Kid A or anything.
Tim: Yes, he’s certainly deft at sitting two sounds together – often within the same track, like the opening track. I’ll admit it was a bit of a jarring experience at first – especially as the album goes straight in with a more… chaotic sound. But after a couple of listens my brain started to catch-up with his vision and what he was doing.
Does his sense of humour come through?
Hassan: He’s mentioned that he’s into British comedy and I feel, like on the opening track and other places, his delivery has a Howard Moon- like Boosh feel. That’s meant as a compliment.
Tim: I was genuinely cackling away in public on certain tracks. It seems like he’s decided to really push the humour even more than he did before. The album is more reminiscent of Grant’s tangents at his live shows (which I’ve been blown away by) – that caustic wit and joyous yet dark surrealism, but never captured on record so well as on this one.
Are there any stand-out lines for you?
Hassan: ‘Smug Cunt’ is fucking funny.
Tim: Absolutely. ‘Diet Gum’, too.
Hassan: I think the chorus line in that is one of my favourites.
Tim: “Like I should feel grateful you are in my life / I’d rather dig out my spleen with a butter knife”, “Idaho… EVER HEARD OF IT?”. Angry John! I feel like this discussion could just be a list of Grant’s most warped and hilarious lyrics.
Does the album have a theme, would you say?
Tim: Like most good artists, Grant holds up a mirror to society/the world. There’s a chaotic, absurdist element to the album, fused with the everyday and banal. There’s a lot going on!
Hassan: To me it seems like a mish-mash of experience filtered through JG’s kitsch/ironic retro-dystopian lens.
Tim: …with cheese. Did you know that he mentions cheese on four of the tracks? That’s my top album fact.
Hassan: That’s un-brie-lievable.
Tim: Maybe the next album will be his r’n’brie album.
I’m glad these reviews have finally moved on to cheese puns! Aside from cheese, I thought it was interesting the way he took news headlines and put them into the songs.
Hassan: I saw that he said people read those headlines, and then just go and buy a cheese sandwich. Like, there’s an absurd montage feel to reality people just seem to go through without paying much attention. But actually it’s fucking mental.
Tim: Yeah. It’s the thought process of a (very good) stand-up comedian in some ways.
Does the political message get lost because of the humour?
Hassan: I think politics today is like a comedy show. It’s why comedians say they have such a hard time writing about Trump, etc. So I think the idea that a discussion of politics needs to be serious perhaps doesn’t apply as much. Humour just seems like a far more effective way of making a point.
Tim: Yeah. It links into that absurdist side – by using bizarre lyrics to mimic what’s going on. I think he achieves this in a smart way – heightening his message, I’d argue.
And finally, if one song on the record sums it up what would you choose?
Tim: Tough question. Perhaps ‘Preppy Boy’ which showcases many of the Italo-disco/ electronic elements, while being something of a banger. Lyrically it mixes an earnest approach with the classic Grant dark wit. A middle-ground between the more ‘out there’ tracks, and ballads.
Hassan: Ooooh, hard. I love ‘Smug Cunt’. But I’m going to be bait and say ‘Love Is Magic’ for me.
Photo by Shawn Brackbill.