It took three years but I finally found the proper follow-up to Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther in John Grant’s Queen of Denmark. Man, I can’t believe I’d never listened to this album. It’s filled with Midlake’s penchant for creating these wooded landscapes and D&D-lite atmosphere, but since it’s NOT their album the melancholy is based not on a renaissance fair, but the renaissance of ones soul. That soul would be John Grant. Grant fronted the Denver band Czars for years before they broke up in the mid-2000s. He took a break from music for a couple years before touring with Flaming Lips and then Midlake as a back up musician. Czars were on Bella Union, who Grant made Queen of Denmark for. Midlake also being on Bella Union became his backing band in the studio. Whether this was happenstance or they all just really got along I don’t know. All I know is that they made an album back in 2010(yes, this album…Queen of Denmark) that was overwhelming with emotion, melacholy, and longing.
Grant is openly gay, and this plays a big part in the lyrics. You can’t listen to a song like “Jesus Hates Faggots” and not get caught up in the kind of rough time this guy had growing up. “Silver Platter Club” sounds like Harry Nilsson and his wonderful “Good Old Desk”. All done up in piano jangle and 1930s flair complete with a horn section, it talks about not living up to the ideal of what a “man” should be. Wishing you were good at sports cause, well, that’s what a guy’s supposed to be good at. “Where Dreams Go To Die” is lilting and filled with the kind of overwhelming heart-on-sleeve bravado that Matt Berringer fills every National album with. Rufus Wainwright wishes he’d wrote this song. I know he does.
John Grant has a smooth and warm baritone that is classic-sounding in the best way possible. It pulls you into his world and envelopes you in words offered openly and honestly. He also displays a sense of humor in songs like “Sigourney Weaver” and “Chicken Bones”. But having Midlake backing you and building your songs from the ground up with a steady flow of piano, flute, acoustic sheen, and an overall “wall-of-sound” nothing ever comes off as tongue-in-cheek. There’s nothing fast-paced here, but it all comes off as big and orchestral. It’s like baroque pop, or chamber pop folk. Use either one you want.
So in my quest to find some albums that passed me by this was a pleasant surprise. I actually found this as I was checking out John Grant’s new album Pale Green Ghosts. A much different affair more electronic-based. I will definitely give that some ear time as well, but right now it’s all about Queen of Denmark.