Album Review: John Grant – Love is Magic

Sometimes you just have to accept your own limitations. For example, the last two months have seen me trying to desperately juggle being a father and halfway decent life partner, with selling a house, with no less than three separate roles in my day job as well. Pressure and stress levels have been predictably high, and a lot of things that matter to me have had to become lower priorities. It is perhaps no surprise then that the imminent release of a new John Grant album had passed me by until I ran past a poster for it as I dashed for my train home from the London office last week. With its eye-catching artwork only caught for the briefest moment as I made my way for my train at St Pancras, I could glean three things from the poster. It was out in the next week or so, Mr Grant was having fun in the arty photograph, and it was titled Love is Magic, which given the less than optimistic tone of his previous albums, either signalled a change in mood, or a tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Initial examination of the artwork for Love is Magic confirms that John Grant is luxuriating in both a change of image and an increased art budget. There’s also lovely little details, such as the high gloss spot varnishing of the photographs against the matt white of the rest of he case and the even higher gloss sticker on the CD slipcase becoming a finger print magnet, thus subtly yet permanently marking the physical media as the property of the fan that purchased it. All in all, it’s a beautifully thought out piece of packaging, and something that more record labels should invest in.

So what about the music? As much as it pains me to say this, I think John Grant the musician and this reviewer are moving in two different directions. The deeper John Grant immerses himself in electronica, the further away he gets from the stunning organic sound that compelled me to fall in love so hard with his debut.

I get it though. Creatively Grant has to move on, and ever more reliance on synthesisers and electro-pop is the direction he has chosen to go, and he has done so quite brilliantly, but that doesn’t mean that the music he is releasing now will entirely appeal to those of us that were so bowled over the by Queen of Denmark.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some great moments on Love is Magic, such as the irresistible dance-pop groves of “He’s Got His Mother’s Hips”, but there’s also moments that can leave you scratching your head, such as the awful vocalisation that starts and ends “Metamorphosis”. There again, at least “Metamorphosis” is the opener of Love is Magic, therefore laying down a warning sign for those that may be considered fair-weather fans. And I include myself in that group. It happens again on “Diet Gum” later on in the album, and you start to wonder if Grant is deliberately using these tracks to weed those fans who have not fully bought in to his electronic direction.

When he does unleash it, John Grant still has one of the finest voices in modern music, and he remains a compelling lyricist as well, and a song like “Is He Strange” is up there with some of the very best work he has ever done. Love is Magic is a good album released by one of the most vital creative forces in music. However John Grant is now firmly in what I can only describe as ‘Bjork territory’ and has become an artist I have immense admiration for, but whose music I don’t always enjoy, simply because of my own limitations.

I’ve accepted my limitations. Love is Magic is a great album, albeit one that I don’t get as much out of as others doubtless will. I’ve accepted that John Grant will never return to the sound of Queen of Denmark. Despite this, he is, and will remain, an amazing musical artist and towering talent.

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