John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
If Cat Power’s Sun was the most disappointing album of 2012, then John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts is likely to be the most disappointing album of 2013. Three years ago John Grant released a beautiful album, Queen of Denmark, that both bared his soul and contained some lovely songs. Recorded with Midlake in Texas, it had a laid-back mid-1970s sound with ultra-confessional lyrics. For his new album, John Grant has decamped to Iceland. Fittingly, the album has a colder sound. In interviews, Grant says that on this album he’s embraced his love for bands like Depeche Mode. This comes through clearly in the mid-1980s vibe with full-on synths. The shift in sound is tough to get used to. It’s so different. There are bass-heavy techno synths. Beep-oriented krautrock synths. Synths, synths, synths. Midlake are present on some of the tracks and a couple of songs do come close to the Queen of Denmark sound, GMF and Glacier being the closest. But even then there’s usually have some sort of synth background. If the music has changed, the themes haven’t. The songs are still about his self-loathing, his dependency issues in the past, and his former lover. There are still some great lines. “Half of the time I think I’m in some movie, I play the underdog of course, I wonder who’ll they get to play me baby, They could dig up Richard Burton’s corpse”. But context is everything. With Midlake’s lush support, Grant sounded fragile, but on the right track. Backed by a colder sound, he comes across as angry, bitter, fucked up. Worse still, it’s self-indulgent. At 64 minutes, we get to hear him vent a lot of spleen. Change is good. But this change has generated an album that for all its philological prowess sounds unutterably dull. When you really want and expect an album to be an instant classic and it isn’t, the disappointment is always the greatest. Let’s only hope that this is the most disappointing album of 2013.