There are fewer modern-day solo artists more fascinating than John Grant. From his early days in The Czars to the melodic masterpiece that was his debut solo release, Queen Of Denmark, to the marvellous Creep Show collaboration with Wrangler, Grant has never stopped experimenting.
His recent solo releases have each been more electronic than the last. On his new album Boy From Michigan, Grant leans heavily on the early electronic age with songs drawing on Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, New Order, Vangelis and more.
The album opens with Grant's 'Michigan trilogy,' three songs that look back on Grant’s formative days in that state. The album opener and title track begins with an ominous synth drone, adding layer upon layer of intense sound before blossoming into a woozy, reflective track that effortlessly holds your attention for its near eight-minute duration. The theme of reflection continues with 'Country Fair' and 'The Rusty Bull', and the distinctly personal nature of the opening trio of songs is one that permeates the entire album. The combination of Grant’s Icelandic solitude and the global events of the last eighteen months may well have led to this introspective feel, of course, but Grant has never been one to shy away from baring his soul on his albums. On this one, he goes further than ever before, making it his most autobiographical work to date.
As the album develops, Grant reflects on his life in Denver with his late teenage years chronicled in 'Mike And Julie' and 'The Cruise Room.' The songs are frank explorations of a time when Grant was still getting to grips with his sexuality, with 'Mike And Julie' having an almost voyeuristic feel to it as we watch on as Grant uses a female friend to halt the advances of a man.
'Best In Me' and 'Rhetorical Figure' change the mood; both tracks upbeat, electronic songs that really hit home. The Kraftwerk lie pulses in the former are a wonderful, if perhaps unintentional, tribute to the band, and the New Order meets Devo joy of 'Rhetorical Figure' is a real album highlight.
'Just So You Know' and 'Dandy Star' return the album to its earlier pace. In common with all but two of the tracks on the album, both are more than five minutes long, but there’s more than enough depth to each track to keep you hooked. The album’s only misstep follows with 'Your Portfolio', which really doesn’t fit the mood of the other songs, but that’s a minor quibble when you consider the overall quality of the record. We end with the Donald Trump baiting 'The Only Baby' and 'Billy', a warm closing track that rounds Boy From Michigan off perfectly.
As ever, John Grant doesn’t shy away from confronting the listener with intensely personal lyrics, and on Boy From Michigan, he goes further than he ever has done before. That gives the album an edge that previous Grant releases don’t have, and it makes for a rewarding and hugely enjoyable listening experience. Once again, John Grant hits the spot and impressively so.