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Old 10-02-2021, 05:17 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Originally posted in Bitesize, May 7 2015

Artiste: John Grant
Nationality: American
Album: Pale Green Ghosts
Year: 2013
Label: Bella Union
Genre: Synthpop
Pale Green Ghosts
Black Belt
It Doesn't Matter to Him
Why Don't You Love Me Anymore
You Don't Have To
Sensitive New Age guy
Ernest Borgnine
I Hate This Town

Chronological position: Second solo album
Familiarity: Zero
Interesting factoid: The title of the album refers to a line of trees that stand on the highway outside his home
Initial impression: Oh man! Dancy synthpop? This is not what I expected
Best track(s): GMF, Vietnam, It doesn't matter to him, I hate this town, Glacier
Worst track(s): Black Belt, Sensitive New Age Guy
Comments: Apparently John Grant used to front alternative rock band The Czars, but I don't know anything about that. I've never heard of him, so this will be a classic “Bitesize” review as I dive headlong into unknown territory. Will I bang my head on the rocks and drown? Will I swim like a dolphin in the clear blue sea? Will I even remember I can't swim? Well we open with a thick bassy synth line which gives way to an echoey vocal before the percussion kicks in. It's odd, because looking at the guy on the album sleeve synthpop is not what immediately comes to mind: I expected this to be a Country, if not Folk sort of album. Some good synth hits there add a sense of drama to the song, which I have to admit right away doesn't impress me that much, but let's give it a chance.

Ah, now here we go. The second track is much ... worse. Don't like this at all. Very disco-dancey and sort of Europop I feel. Meh. In fairness, “GMF” is much much better (seems it stands for Greatest MotherFucker), a nice acoustic-y ballad with a clever lyrical line in it and a real hook. And “Vietnam” is beautiful, with orchestral arrangements that are lush and sweeping, a soft vocal and some handclap percussion that somehow is not incongruous. The slow, laidback --- and yes, folky --- influence remains through “It Doesn't Matter to Him”, as the album slowly but consistently gets better than I had expected, or hoped. After a rocky start, I'm really getting into this now. “Why Don't You Love Me Anymore” is darker, has a sort of almost complaining, moany feel to it, very bleak and self-pitying; not sure how I feel about it. I don't hate it, but I sure don't love it, and the addition of Sinead O'Connor on backing vocals does nothing to help.

“You Don't Have To” gets things back on track, some pretty mad organ in there, nice kind of stuttering bass too, not mad about “Sensitive New Age Guy”, too dancy and poppy for me, very electrobeat or whatever the fuck it's called; reminds me of Depeche Mode or Yazoo or some shower like that. Erasure maybe. Yeah, Erasure. Cunts. “Ernest Borgnine” slows it all down while still bringing in the thrumming, throaty synth and also some nice sax. A cool little bitter ballad with a lot of Divine Comedy in “I Hate This Town”; really like this one, possibly my favourite. Sort of a mad Carpenters-on-crack vibe from this too. Sinead O is back for the closer, “Glacier”, with some totally gorgeous orchestration, a laidback ballad with more bitter lyrics, it swells triumphantly in the midsection as O'Connor lends her voice, but to be honest it could be anyone; she's just not that powerful a force on this album as I've heard her be on, say, The The's Mind bomb. She tries, but Grant holds court over everything. I must say I've really grown to like this.
Overall impression: Didn't like it at first, slow to get going but once it did, with a few little valleys it's mostly really quite excellent, with sharp lyrics and a real couldn't give a fuck attitude that's refreshing.
Hum Factor: 7
Intention: I think I'll listen to some of his other stuff.

Reviewer's Later Note: This is what I mean when I say I often - very often - reviewed albums as I listened to them for the first time. The impression it made, or didn't make, on me is carried through the review, and it's not something that can be contrived. It happens organically, sometimes against my will, sometimes to my delight. Here, I was quite prepared, after the first few tracks, to dismiss and hate this album, but I grew to really like and then love it as I went on, and now I'm a big John Grant fan. I always thought it was fun - hopefully also for those reading - to see how my preconceptions or original impressions were blown out of the water sometimes, as they were here.
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