Albums Of The Week

Electro-pop on acid


John Grant goes disco, confronts bullies and celebrates a WikiLeaks activist in his fourth album, Love Is Magic



John Grant

Bella Union

4 stars

Love is magic, declares John Grant on the title track of his fourth studio record.

It would be too easy to dismiss the cookie-cutter statement if not for the fact that the Michigan-born native also acknowledges in an interview that "love's a sh**show that requires work, it's not all lollipops and rainbows and '67 Dodge Dart Hemis and STDs and macaroni and cheese and John Carpenter".

"Have you got depression?/Passive aggression?/Did they stop loving you?/And you're the only one who doesn't know?" he sings in his caramel-smooth tenor, riding the razor blade between sentimentality and cruel realisation.

Such is the contrarian air that surrounds this album, which dives into electro-pop with unabashed relish. It is as if he has spent time in the company of acts such as Devo, Fischerspooner, and Hercules and Love Affair.

This is a sexy, smarty-pants record that smarts and seduces. Grant's corrosive wit is sharpened in the track Diet Gum, where he takes aim at an ex-boyfriend, speaking plainly: "Do you know what a collective noun is, Stupidzilla?... your group would be called a misery, or, no, a patheticness of f***wits."

The song begins with a nod to Michael Jackson's bass-driven Billie Jean, before he switches to a robotic drone: "I manipulate, that is what I do/I manipulate, it's rather easy with you."

It is Kraftwerk gone acid.

Public figures are not spared either. He lacerates "anyone who has embraced ambition, run amok and bragged".

The music moves like slo-mo apocalyptic dread slathered over with wonderful guilt, with 4/4 beats peppered throughout escalating synths.

Grant has perfected the art of uneasy listening, inviting you to the dance floor and making you all antsy. He's Got His Mother's Hips sashays on wicked wordplay and silly rhyme. "He's got his mother's hips/He does the dippity-dip/He's got delicious quips," goes the funky come-hither, a spunky proclamation of identity against disapproving eyes.

Is it a satire or a celebration? No one knows.

Such hard-earned pride also underscores the comeback against the bully in Preppy Boy. Backed by retro disco squelches and hyper-kinetic synths, he taunts: "Come on now, preppy boy/If you got an opening, then I am unemployed."

It is a scenario where he gets his ultimate revenge.

The hot-headed fantasia comes to a head in the last track, the 1970s-sounding piano ballad where he serenades Chelsea Manning, the former United States Army intelligence analyst turned WikiLeaks activist who transitioned to a woman while in prison.

"Chelsea is a butterfly, she metamorphosised... you can't stop the process of the truth, try as you might," he sings.

Truth and dare, Grant has done both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'Electro-pop on acid'. Print Edition | Subscribe