Song of the day, not that I have a feature called “song of the day”, is by this fellow called John Grant who released an album called Pale Green Ghosts in March of this year. The song is called GMF. It’s a belter.
Pale Green Ghosts is a break up album, and it’s almost as angry a record as Slayer’s “God Hates Us All“. It has a far better (wry and cynical) turn of phrase however. Think I’m kidding? Try this for a lyric:
“Half of the time I think I’m in a movie / I play the underdog of course / I wonder who they’ll get to play me / maybe they could dig up Richard Burton‘s corpse?”
I first heard about John Grant just a month or so back when I was in Rough Trade East record store. I say “heard about”. What actually happened was that I saw a display featuring the “Pale Green Ghost” album cover which I am sorry to say produced the following reaction:
- Why is that man on the album cover looking so cross?
- He has the look of a Presbyterian preacher about to launch into one of his punchiest Hell-and-Damnation sermons to an especially wayward congregation.
- He’s still looking very cross.
- That doesn’t look like my kind of thing. I don’t think I’ll explore any further, despite quite a large display.
- Gosh, he still looks really cross. Did someone slip something in his latte?
Weeks later, I read a tweet praising an album to the skies, which got the better of my curiosity. It turned out the record being praised was John Grant’s “Pale Green Ghost” album – with that stern-looking cover. So I gave it a go, and lo, it was good.
I looked up John Grant. He’s American. This is his second solo album. The other (“Queen of Denmark”) was Mojo Magazine’s Album of 2010. He was previously in a band called The Czars. No, me neither. He’s gay, and in 2012 announced onstage he’d found out he is HIV positive. If there is palpable anger in this break up record, then I guess Grant has plenty of things he could feel angry about. I’m probably not helping mentioning that stern look of his on the album cover.
Something regular readers should know about this record is that it’s not my usual sort of thing. I usually require the following as a minimum requirement for an album to move me:
1. A drum kit being played. (Pale Green Ghosts does have one, but it is used sporadically).
2. Very few synthesisers being played. (Pale Green Ghosts has them coming out of its ears).
So why has this album grabbed me?
Firstly, whilst the record is musically diverse, a series of three songs in the middle of the album (“GMF”, “Vietnam”, “It Doesn’t Matter To Him”) remind me of another great break up album, Beck’s “Sea Change”. There is some lovely reflective balladry here, with Sinead O’Connor on backing vocals. “GMF” mixes the feel of “Sea Change” with the harmonies from Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” to great effect. The rest of the album combines beats, atmospherics and “real” instrumentation and is incredibly diverse in range.
Secondly, the lyrics on this album are superb. I’m not the sort to bang on about lyrics much, but these are frequently both clever and amusing (in a good way) without ever crossing into parody. Think of the angry “Idiot Wind” in Dylan’s break up album Blood On The Tracks. On this record Grant has an equally sharp tongue but better beats (Dylan: “You’re an idiot babe / it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe”. Grant: “What you’ve got is a black belt in BS”).
He’s a bit sweary too, with “GMF” covering similar ground to Twisted Sister‘s song “SMF” if you catch my drift.
Overall therefore may I recommend Pale Green Ghosts to you. Listen to the song GMF below to see if it’s your cup of tea. Be warned however: it’s probably not one to play in the car with your kids in the back – although parents will be pleased to learn that I did show my kids the album cover and told them that if they don’t tidy their rooms, the stern looking man will come to the house and tell them off. Their rooms have been remarkably clutter-free ever since…
Record #189: John Grant – GMF
John Grant is currently on tour in the UK and plays The Latitude Festival in July.