John Grant, “The Art of The Lie”, grandiose and dark pop

John Grant, “The Art of The Lie”: grandiose and dark pop

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It all starts with a huge funk squinting over the hot sweatiness of the disco dance floors. This distanced elegance combined with grandiose pop evokes David Byrne and his Talking Heads, David Bowie or Peter Gabriel in his addictive compositions.

The song that opens the latest album by John Grant, a songwriter from Michigan, 56 years old in July, sets the agenda: “All That School For Nothing” – all these studies for nothing. Excerpt from the lyrics: “All that therapy and money down the toilet” – how much therapy and money spent on plums. When John Grant tells his life story, he doesn’t lie. Even if it means getting hurt. His sixth opus had to find a title that matched the subject? It will be “The Art of The Lie”. The art of lying. John Grant is playing against common sense. In appearance at least. As John Grant also sings pop in reverse, the result is a marvel.

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The hot spot, the thrilling center of this sixth studio opus in fifteen years, is found in “Marbles”. The electronic beats, evoking industrial rock, open onto a dramatic cinematographic landscape, turbulence and whirring hollowing out the space around the vocal line, itself consumed by computer filters. When the chorus arrives, on a major scale, the effect becomes even more moving.

John Grant begins like this: “You make me lose my marbles” – you make me lose my mind. Then “My words are coming out in fits and garbles” – my words come out in bulk and disorder. The magical chorus ends: “There’s no one on this Earth with whom I’d rather…”

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We must look in film scores, among the synthesizers of Vangelis and John Carpenter, the material from which John Grant was inspired to shape “The Art of The Lie”. In particular, we keep in mind the opening, as majestic as it is disturbing, of “Blade Runner” – “the most beautiful sound I have ever heard” comments John Grant in the text accompanying the release of the disc. Obvious inspiration on the songs “Daddy” and “The Child Catcher”, the most melancholy passages of the album.

Female models also nourish John Grant’s creativity. Polyglot, speaking Russian, German, Spanish, Icelandic, Swedish and French, the fifty-year-old holds in great esteem the most radical of French lyricists and performers, Brigitte Fontaine, 84 years old. Like this iconic disco figure, Grace Jones, 76 years old. Producer Ivor Guest had worked for both ladies? John Grant hired him for “The Art of The Lie.”

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What “lies” are these then, since John Grant is not hiding anything? Those that the singer points out in “The Art of The Lie” concern the Christian fundamentalists, the supremacists, this extreme right on which North American politics shamelessly feasts. About them, John Grant declares, still in the album’s liner notes: “They consider LGBTQ+ people and non-white people to be genetically and even mentally inferior and think that all undesirables must be forced either to convert to Christianity and adhere to the teachings of the Bible as they interpret them, or to be eliminated so that purity can be restored to “their” nation.”

Born into a Methodist family, John Grant remained an eternal “disappointment” for his parents, doomed to hell, according to the most rigid interpretation of the Bible. The song “Father”, about his father, expresses this founding incomprehension. Without doubt one of his most disturbing and sad texts. There is, in Grant, such a particular way of linking this innocence that we would like to be specific to childhood and the harshness, if not the cruelty, of the adult world.

John Grant, born July 25, 1968, musician, singer, composer, lyricist.

John Grant will be 56 years old in July 2024. His mood has stabilized, it seems. Because John Grant has come a long way. He has mixed memories of the gay scene which saw him take his first steps in the 1990s. Confiding in the British magazine “Attitude” in 2017: “If you are beautiful and you have the right genes, the gay scene is a place where you can be adored. But if you’re not, that’s a different story.”

The following decade saw Grant as frontman for The Czars, a folk pop sensation of the 2000s. Founder of the Bella Union label, Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde, a cult group adored by Grant, published the group until its last recording, in 2004 Star in the making, John Grant left The Czars in 2006 to find himself a waiter, unable to return to the stage.

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How does he perceive himself now? Today adorned with a magnificent lumberjack beard, the fifty-year-old happily poses in an Icelandic wool sweater. The volcanic island, which he calls “cold, treeless Hawaii,” “saved” him. As he explained to the daily “The Observer” in 2015. Saved from drugs, from alcohol, also from a frenetic, destructive sexuality. A few years earlier, in 2012, John Grant publicly announced that he had contracted HIV.

The cover image of “The Art of The Lie,” by John Grant.

How many songs to expunge fears, suffering, unfulfilled needs? There is desire too, sometimes even a rapture, an improvement. The title “Marbles”, cited above, could be of this type. But the text remains too ambiguous to decide. “Music and humor are the ways I have always used to cope with the dark side of life. Come to think of it, that’s also how I face the bright side of things.”

“The Art of The Lie”, John Grant, Bella Union

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