John Grant

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

From Texas to Iceland and back; thus far John Grant’s solo career could be easily read as a coming-of-age travel story. A first, difficult album of great baroque ballads, only made possible with the help and support of fellow label-mate Midlake was recorded in their studio in Denton; a second electronic LP, a determined detour from the melodic songwriting of his previous effort, born after a relocation to Iceland, the land where Grant seemed to finally find himself at home. Now, it’s Grey Tickles, Black Pressure that sees the Grant return to a studio in Dallas as a new man: no doubt more confident and, apparently, more at peace with himself, despite the true meaning of the album’s title.

"Grey tickles" is the literal translation from Icelandic for mid-life crisis, while "black pressure" is the direct translation from Turkish for nightmare, as Grant explains in the press release, bracing the listener for extreme drama and suffering. Surprisingly though, there is no anguish or grief on the album: if a crisis is on, the afflicted must really have learned how to turn all the negative feelings into positive energy. Even more surprising are the LP’s ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro’: a overlapping of voices – including Grant’s own – in the first, and a child alone in the latter, read in different languages an excerpt from the First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud[,]" words unexpectedly coming from the Bible that sound like a mantra the singer is repeating to win himself over. That’s it: unlike the deep introspection and self-blame of the previous records’ lyrics, this time Grant is speaking out, pointing the finger towards all the (types of) men that caused his ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ of the past, always without losing his wit and humour. The "it’s not you, it’s me" moment is over and the result feels like a liberated songwriting, made by a person who finally acquired the ability of letting go and truly be himself: now, it’s time to dance.

Not only the lyrics, but also the sound took great advantage from this personal revolution: if the song structure remains basically the same as in the previous records, here the grand ballads and electronic beats finally found their balance within the album. Hints of funk make the disco-tunes like ‘Voodoo Doll’ or ‘Disappointing’ (featuring Tracey Thorn) irresistible and street-cred worthy – Grant admittedly named Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’ among his latest inspirations – while the symphonic arrangements widen the soundscapes of the slower tracks, where synth and strings stand side by side as in the excellent ‘Global Warming’ and the even better follower ‘Magma Arrives’. The Midlake-sound still resonates too, in the guitar-driven mid-tempo of ‘Down Here’ or in the opening title track, with its layered backing vocals.

In its 58 minutes length, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure notches up fourteen masterful tracks with no down-swing, enchanting the listener until the very last words, "love never fails". So far, neither John Grant ever had.

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