2013 Albums of the Year #1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

20 Dec

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

Our favourite album of the year comes from one of the most talented and honest songwriters we have had the pleasure to hear from in our lifetime. The openness with which John Grant has approached his solo work and the eloquence and beauty he conveys is, to our mind, unrivalled in modern music.

His second solo album had the unenviable task of living up to its predecessor, the divine sounding and emotionally wrought Queen of Denmark which itself topped end of year lists and prompted a collective critical swooning. Yet Pale Green Ghosts somehow manages to be even more candid and, as a result, disarming. Grant doesn’t so much wear his heart on his sleeve as place it in our hand and leave us to pour over it for hours whilst making us laugh, cry and melt with sounds and melodies that excite and soothe in equal measure.

Here Grant plays with genres more than before as well. Stark electronic melodies and rough synths are juxtaposed with soft, mellifluous harmonies with the guesting (and understated wonderfulness of) Sinead O’Connor and his floating, winsome vocals. But this variety of styles embraced within the album could be seen as representation of the tumultuous variety of emotions and mood swings one undergoes when experiencing and coming to terms with heartbreak. For this is undeniably a break-up album. An album of a man who has been knifed in the heart by a shattered relationship and is coming to terms with the anger, depression, desire and love that remains in his soul.

The honesty and reality of the emotion expressed so powerfully gives Pale Green Ghosts an accessibility and resonance that we may not have expected, and may give reason to its chart performance (it reached the top 20 here in the UK). That is not to mean Grant, an intellectual purveyor of lyrical dexterity, a wordsmith, has dumbed down and gone mainstream, far from it. It is that Pale Green Ghosts is a very human and relatable album, and one that sounds marvellous.

As far as songwriting goes Grant is as good as he has ever been, letting us see his world through black humour (“I Hate This Town”), defiance (“Blackbelt” is the lyrical equivalent of a Jerry Springer beatdown and the prejudice and homophobia he still suffers (the hauntingly beautiful and moving “Glacier” which gives us shivers each and every time we hear it). His writing is like those first 10 minutes of Up, it is so touching and real that only those with hearts of granite could fail to be affected. Heartstrings are not so much tugged at as plucked until tears begin to well up, then just as they begin to fall he will quickly tickle your funny bone and as you start to smile and chortle the emotion will come flooding out once more as Pale Green Ghosts is revealed in all its heart-wrenching magnificence.

It is an album we have genuinely laughed with, cried with, drummed along with, danced to and sung along to loudly. It, like Queen of Denmark, is an album we have come back to repeatedly since its release and, given its timeless quality, one we will continue to enjoy for years to come no doubt. For our money, John Grant is the finest songwriter of our generation and Pale Green Ghosts has only reinforced that view. It is quite simply sublime and undoubtedly our favourite and most loved album of 2013.

’Pale Green Ghosts’ is out on Bella Union and available to buy from Rough Trade


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One Response to “2013 Albums of the Year #1: John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts”

  1. Peter Smith (@gpetersmith) December 21, 2013 at 11:53 #

    It’s a great list, thought provoking and illuminating, as are your others, and they are making me listen to some new acts and revisit some I’ve never been sure about (John Grant for one). Well done and thanks!

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