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John Grant - Boy From Michigan (Album Review)

Friday, 02 July 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Hörður Sveinsson

Blue pill or red pill? If it’s blue, you can wake up in your bed and go on believing that the world is a wonderful, warm place full of rainbows and gumdrop smiles. The red pill will mean you dig into the toxic systems of patriarchy and capitalism that underpin everything…do you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes?

On John Grant’s fifth solo album, the former Czars man opts for the latter, introducing a thin varnish of Americana before taking us on a true voyage through the acidic catacombs that hold the whole myth together. It’s a remarkable turn from a singer-songwriter who has sharpened his reading of his home country since relocating to the volcanic crags of Iceland a decade or so ago.

Standout tracks include electro stomp The Rusty Bull, which tells the story of a childhood visit to a junkyard where his father would forage for scrap metal.

Grant is haunted by the titular figure greeting visitors at the gates, which acts as a cypher for the misery and confusion of his youth: “And he visits me, while I lie in my bed [...] Your daddy can’t undo what’s done / And 40 years later I’m still trying to run.”

Elsewhere, Rhetorical Figure retains some horrific undertones while adding a dash of fun to proceedings. It’s a jaunty ‘80s shuffler—the album is produced by Welsh indie-folk wizard Cate Le Bon—that makes great use of wordplay: “Some people like alliteration / But I've always been an assonance man / Some people like to go on vacation / I decline and conjugate therefore I am.” It’s more comfortably within Grant's oeuvre—oddball camp electro with hard-learnt lessons just below the surface. 

As a skewering of the current state of America—a nation nominally on the comeback trail but with its intolerant underbelly fully exposed—‘Boy from Michigan’ retains a bleakness that may require a particular mood. That said, it’s important, revealing listening. Grant is a true outsider, someone whose youth was painful, complicated and scarring, and to hear him talk with such candour, wit and poetic integrity is one of the most remarkable corners of modern pop music. That said, he may still wish he could have opted for the blue pill.

John Grant Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon September 06 2021 - LONDON Alexandra Palace Theatre
Tue September 07 2021 - LONDON Alexandra Palace Theatre
Thu September 09 2021 - EDINBURGH Festival Theatre Edinburgh
Fri September 10 2021 - GATESHEAD Sage Gateshead
Sat September 11 2021 - LIVERPOOL Grand Central Hall
Tue September 14 2021 - SHEFFIELD Octagon
Wed September 15 2021 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri September 17 2021 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion
Thu September 30 2021 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Junction
Fri October 01 2021 - COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre
Sat October 02 2021 - BATH Forum
Sun October 03 2021 - MANCHESTER RNCM Theatre
Tue October 05 2021 - CARDIFF New Theatre Cardiff
Sat October 09 2021 - DUBLIN National Concert Hall
Thu June 16 2022 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Sat June 18 2022 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall

Compare & Buy John Grant Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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