John Grant is one of the great living songwriters. If you cut that list down by making it singer/songwriters under sixty, Grant is sitting somewhere near the top. His voice is pretty good. His melodies are solid. But, fuck me in a handbasket, those lyrics! They’re a goddamn tapestry of perfection. They will make you laugh. They will make you think he’s a fucking moron (seriously, he’s very deliberate with this). But Grant doesn’t struggle where so many other songwriters do. He knows the difference between depth and weight. Best of all? He’s not a fucking prick about it.
Take the single and title track off this album. “Have you got depression?” the first line of the song asks. The next verse will have you “staring at a dresser drawer just devoid of clean underwear”. Now, what do you think the chorus is going to be after all this sad shit? That’s right. “Love is magic.” Wait, what? “And this thing called intimacy? Is it what you always thought it would be?” Later on, “Do you feel like you are in control? Did you find out that there’s really no such thing?” This is Grant talking about the real shit. Then the most candy coated fucking chorus comes in with an electro-pop synth backing saying, “Love it magic. Whether you like it or not.”
This may seem confusing at first. That’s because love songs have been lying to us since we first heard a three part harmony in the womb. Anyone that has been in a relationship for a while will tell you that relationships don’t cure shit. You’ll still have depression. You’ll still be lonely. You’ll still have a hard time getting to sleep. Because, simply, you’ll still be you. But, despite all that, there’s something great about it. And if you’re in a good enough mood, you might even call it magic.
This is how Grant works. He plays with your expectations. He understands how your ear and thoughts have been trained. And, best of all, he knows how to seriously fuck with that shit. In “Metamorphosis” the song abruptly changes into a whole other narrative to reveal its main idea. In the song “Diet Gum” there’s a repetition of words that you’re convinced holds no value before it reveals itself to be a dark confessional. There is so much to unpack in a John Grant song. He has the ability to present deep philosophical insights while making you laugh. He can have you questioning your very core beliefs and values without feeling weary, sad, or heavy. He can show you the absolute grim truth of reality and still leave you skipping through the streets like it’s lollipop fucking lane. I’ve heard it said that the jester holds more power than anyone else in the kingdom because nobody else can tell off the king. Grant holds this same power and he uses it on what you know and everything you’ve learned. Don’t be deceived by that chicken feather shirt, the cage on his head, and those tighty whities. That man on the album cover is a goddamn genius.