With his debut solo release in 2010, ‘Queen of Denmark’, John Grant established himself as one of the supreme balladeers, blessed with a velvet voice like the most enveloping and reassuring hug. This style highlighted his unique talent as a lyricist, an ability to sugar troubling personal experience with humour. However, as listeners to his various DJ slots on 6Music will attest, his music tastes stretch far and wide but with a particular fondness for electronic music. The influence of this genre, with heavy use of autotune (which sometimes seems a waste of such a sumptuous voice), has dominated his releases from ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ onwards.

Grant’s latest album, ‘The Art of The Lie’, sees him working with Ivor Guest, who produced two of his favourite records, ‘Hurricane’ by Grace Jones and Brigitte Fontaine’s ‘Prohibition’. They set out to make a record that mirrored the soundtrack to ‘Bladerunner’ by Vangelis or The Carpenters if John Carpenter was a member of the band. Electro-funk takes centre stage on the fantastic opening track, “All That School For Nothing’, built around Robin Mullarkey’s fretless bass creating an infectious groove. ‘Marbles’ uses the trademark self-deprecating humour he uses to sweeten difficult subject matter (“I‘ve got the poise / Of a newborn giraffe… My moves are quite clearly / Unchoreographed.”) Soundtracked by synths and Dave Okumu‘s crackling guitar solo, Grant‘s voice manages to mix autotune with its most honeyed and human qualities.

Track three begins a section that would be of interest to Freud. ‘Father’ starts with what appear to be happy and innocuous childhood memories (the room in which Grant slept, hearing the Beach Boys on the radio) before recounting the poisonous effects of the Bible, specifically his father’s embrace of the Old Testament, to make him feel a disappointment and worthless. Yet the music is relaxed and dreamy, the use of autotune and voice on this occasion blending perfectly. ‘Mother and Son’ is even more laidback, bolstered by gorgeous backing vocals from Rachel Sermanni, while Grant gently rages at the impact of homophobia (“They took his life with an inhuman rage because his love was different from theirs.”) Track eight sees Grant reclining back on the couch and making another bid for Sigmund’s attention with ‘Daddy’, its synths and distant drums building to an epic, melodious chorus questioning “Daddy, you are majestic / Would you betray me? / Would you hurt me?

Sandwiched between these are a pair of groovy electro-funky as hell tunes. ‘Meek AF’ throws in the album’s title, a clear take on the vile Trump’s The Art of the Deal. The song is a move from the purely personal, marking the rise of populism and fundamentalism in America  and how it is the opposite of the Biblical imperative that the meek will inherit the earth. ‘It’s a Bitch’ highlights Grant’s capacity to sound like he has swallowed the thesaurus, including the words encephalon, Icelandic declensions and unmistakable cacoethes.

‘The Child Catcher’ is a luxurious ballad on which Grant’s voice is especially melliflous while reflecting on the trials of family life (“The happy nest becomes the perfect tomb”), although the extended fade out and guitar solo feel like it could have been trimmed. In fact, this identifies the only problem with ‘The Art of The Lie’, that it is too unhurried and would have benefited from a less is more outlook. Of its eleven tracks, four are in excess of seven minutes and only three are less than five minutes duration including the twenty-second interlude of ‘Twistin Scriptures’. It means that by the time the album reaches the relatively insubstantial ‘Laura Lou’, my attention is starting to wander. The closing track, ‘Zeitgeist’ contains a more substantial melody to place alongside its atmospheric electronics and bleak conclusion (“The world is closing in again on me tonight.”)

Quibbles about its length aside, ‘The Art of The Lie’ contains much to recommend it. The up-tempo funk numbers are a particular highlight, Grant is in fine voice and his lyrics reflect his personal experience with bravery and humour.

John Grant: The Art of The Lie – Out 14th June 2024 (Bella Union)

Grant – All That School For Nothing (Official Lyric Video) (youtube.com)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.