Sunday, 06 December 2015
ARTIST: John Grant – [Album]
DATE: 12-06-15
REVIEW BY: Bill Adams
ALBUM: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
LABEL: Partisan/Bella Union

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Drugged. Disconcertingly deviant. Just plain different. These are just some of the words and phrases which leap to mind as one listens to Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant’s third solo album. Now, words like that paint a very divisive image in one’s mind’s eye – the implication is that you’ll either “get” it and love it or have no idea what to do with it whatsoever – but the fact is that the music is very engaging in a schizophrenic sort of way. What do I mean by that? Well, there is a very clear foundation in rock on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure but, just as is the case with the best Butthole Surfers albums, it’s the layers of stuff on top of that base which makes the final product a mind-blowing thing of beauty.

There is no holding back and Grant just throws listeners into the deep end as the “Intro” echoes “Let’s Talk About Cars” by the Surfers by featuring discussion in a foreign language. It’s hard to know how to feel about it because most listeners will likely have no idea how to translate or digest it, and that becomes flat-out unsettling after the track ends with no resolution made and the album’s title track begins, adorned with lyrics about having cancer and all bets being off – set to music carefully written and arranged to resemble The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” It’s really neat because, on one hand, listeners get a sense of pop classicism in the composition aspect of the song but a decidedly eschewed angle on the lyrical side (as lines like “I did not think I was/ The one being addressed/ In hemorrhoid commercials on the TV set” illustrate)i – but they still play smoothly and don’t sit at perfect odd with each other in listening – somehow.

As the record progresses, the weirdness about that top layer of every song on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure doesn’t quite thin out at any point, but it doesn’t take long for listeners to not only expect it, but begin to revel in it. On “Slug Snacks,” for example, Grant actually gets a little more Surfer-y as he prattles out some fairly sleazy come-ons (check out lines like “You know it takes an ass like yours/ To make it possible for me/ To have developed such/ A very high tolerance for/ Inappropriate behavior”) over some third-rate electronic beats and vocal effects, but then takes it even further with the help of Amanda Palmer and some truly turgid guitar tones on “You And Him” (where discussion of chemical castration comes up, in addition) to leave listeners feeling reallyunclean. Is the desire to leave listeners feeling this way? It certainly seems so but, because it plays so well, listeners won’t find any reasons to complain, even if they would normally be offended.

Further into the running, Grant does break stride with a song which stumbled close to a ballad in the form of “Magma Rising” (although, again, it comes very much on Grant’s own terms as some fairly oppressive synths dominate the later playing of the song and the singer promises listeners that “Your face will melt right off your skeleton”) before getting positively dance-y for “Disappointing” – which also features Tracey Thorn and then finally leaving a warm spot in the end with a heartening summation of what love is as read by a child.

Taking all of what has been addressed in this review into account, it could be said that the album is excellent because it never lets its guard or methods falter or it could be contended that Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is a treasure because, three albums in, John Grant has fine-tuned and perfected his authoritative voice as a truly bizarre, outsider artist; or it could just be said that Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is a great, weird little record which might just change your life and get you looking for other great, weird little records, reader. That said, if you don’t want to get a bit of a transfer high of weirdness, don’t listen to Grey Tickles, Black Pressure. If you want to get your life changed though, this album might just be a great way to begin that metamorphosis.



Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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