John Grant’s last album, Pale Green Ghosts, was a superb thing with its feet firmly rooted in electronica, moving his sound on in a fascinating direction after the more sombre Queen of Denmark. It was still filled with his trademark melodies and darkly humorous lyrics, but the dominance of synthesisers gave it a much more upbeat edge that you might expect from Grant. This album, his third full solo release, sees him combine the electronics and seventies style singer/songwriter sound of his two previous releases to give us an album that is a little mixed but overall rather enjoyable
The album is book-ended (Intro and Outro) with readings from Corinthians 13 at the start in different dialects and at the end, read by a child. The opening readings are all mixed together which rather oddly recalls Kraftwerk’s ‘News from Radioactivity‘ in sound and mood. Grant has said that he wanted this release to sound angrier and moodier than his last records and that feeling is there in the title track which follows Intro. The song focusses on the frustrations of entering middle age alone (“I often stand and stare at nothing in the grocery store/Because I do not know what two by two eat any more“) which mirrors the album’s title, with grey tickles being an Icelandic phrase for the approach to middle age. It’s a lovely track with a distinct Pink Floyd feel to it.
We stay in the 70’s for Snug Slacks, a track built around a superb 70’s funk synth like you’d hear on a classic Stevie Wonder album from that decade. The whole song turns into a funk extravaganza, with Grant singing like a randy madman throughout and it’s a cracker. It’s a strong start and that continues with Guess How I Know, which is the loudest track here, and You & Him which recalls Pale Green Ghosts’ electronics and is one of the best tracks here. Its glam rock like chorus is a real treat. Down Here is another high point with its bleak lyrics (“All we’re doing/Is learning how to die”) masked with a woozy pop melody.
It’s around this point that things unravel a little. Voodoo Doll is another electro workout but it’s a bit unfocused and Global Warming and Magma Arrives seem a bit like different takes on the sides that underpinned the first 6 tracks. It’s a fairly clunky midsection unfortunately. Black Blizzard puts things back on course, sounding a little like late period Depeche Mode with its analogue feel. Disappointing returns us to the 70’s funk feel and it’s a quite marvelous track, crammed full of drama and with a wonderful vocal. Travel Thorne pops up on vocals too and the whole thing is quite brilliant. No More Tangles is yet another high point and one track that successfully merges the spirits of Queen Of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts. It has a distinct feel of a Bond theme tune in places which is both unusual and really rather splendid. The 70’s MOR like Geraldine then takes us to Outro and that is that.
Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is a very good album but not an excellent one. It’s maybe a couple of tracks too long and lacks the focus of Pale Green Ghosts. When it hits its highpoint though, on tracks like You & Him and Disappointing Grant’s talents are fully displayed and you realise that the world is a better place with a new John Grant album in it. He’s a unique talent and Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is yet more evidence of that.