Album Review: John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

For me, like many people, John Grant first appeared on my radar following the release of Queen of Denmark, his gloriously heartbreaking collaboration with Midlake and simply one of the most astonishing debut albums for many years. Of course, he’d previously been vocalist with the Czars during the 90s and early part of this century, but I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of them prior to Grant’s debut. From the emotional depth in Grant’s voice, to the warm and organic backing that Midlake provided throughout, I was utterly won over by the way that Queen of Denmark balanced bravery and humanity with being brutally honest and emotionally raw.
Grant’s follow up, Pale Green Ghosts, was a different beast entirely. The organic sounds of the debut were largely absent beyond the glorious “GMF”, in favour of digital beats and synthetic sounds. For those like me, who thrilled at how Queen of Denmark had sound, it was initially a little disorientating, though it could not be denied that the songwriting and Grant’s voice provided a humanity that so much music reliant on synthesisers lack. Ultimately, Pale Green Ghosts wasn’t a disappointment, it was just different to Grant’s debut.
By and large Grey Tickles, Black Pressure picks up where Pale Green Ghosts left us, so it seems that anyone quietly hoping for a return to the more organic sound of Grant’s solo debut is going to have to wait a little while longer (or check out his Live in Concert album, where he is backed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra). Then again, those that thrilled to the undeniable brilliance of Pale Green Ghosts are going to have nothing to grumble about here. Grant’s songwriting and vocals continue to soar at the same heights established on his first two albums, as he continues to be the modern benchmark that all other acts should be measured against.
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is an album of obvious depth and quality, the type of which Bella Union seem to be specialising in these days, but Grant is consistently proving to be one of their stand out acts. The fact that, despite my unashamed preference towards music with an organic, unsynthesised sound, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is still one of my favourite albums from 2015 so far, should give you some sort of indication of the scale of Grant’s supreme talent.
After three wonderful studio albums in a row and a jaw-dropping live offering, John Grant has now reached a level where the weight of expectation on him to maintain this level of brilliance. Is it fair to expect him to continue making albums as good as Grey Tickles, Black Pressure? Of course it isn’t. But if anyone can, it’s John Grant.

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