A few years back, John Grant embraced his electronic side and relocated to Iceland. His resulting second album, 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts, was an eclectic triumph, ranging from the sarcastic, languid stunner GMF to the ’80s synth pulsings of Sensitive New Age Guy.
Grant’s third sees him move even further away from conventional singer-songwriter tropes. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure itself, an elegiac piano ballad, eases the listener in gently – musically, at least. Lyrically, Grant wryly examines his own HIV-positive status, reluctantly admitting his prob-lems pale when “there are children who have cancer”. There is humour here in the darkness, of course; he warns that people’s words of advice might lead to his head exploding “just like my fa-vourite scene in Scanners”.
Soon, however, the horns, pianos and strings of the title track are put away for a suite of brutalist electronic tracks. Memorable tunes are at a minimum, though Grant’s spat rhythms and playful, caustic lyrics prove infectious – the libidinous, funky Snug Slacks must be the only song to have ever name-checked all of Joan Baez, Joan As Policewoman, GG Allin and Angie Dickinson at once. Elsewhere, Guess How I Know recalls the industrial fuzz of Nine Inch Nails with its post-punk bassline and distorted synths, while You & Him refers to chemical castration, Pol Pot and Twister over a glammy electro stomp.
This side of Grey Tickles… is intriguing, but the strongest moments are those where Grant slows the tempos and allows his snark the space to develop. The title track and the bittersweet Global Warming are high-points, yet the strongest piece is closer Geraldine, which bravely whisks drum loops, synths, strings and brass into a sweeping, lush epic.