Album: John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts (Bella Union)


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The Independent Culture

It's fair to say that most who heard the former Czars frontman's solo debut Queen of Denmark would have happily lapped up more of the same: channelling struggles with drugs, alcohol and sexuality into beautiful, baroque soft-rock, it cropped up on many an end-of-year list in 2010.

Yet Grant can barely acknowledge his laurels, let alone rest on them. And so, for this follow-up he's gone electronic, allying his emotional vicissitudes to those of early dance music, from the disco bacchanal of "Sensitive New Age Guy" to the title track's claustrophobic, proto-techno grind.

The occasional familiar, Carpenters-esque track aside, it makes for an exhilarating musical progression – even as his lyrical style remains unchanged. Once again, discomfiting self-exposure is tempered by the most eccentric, erudite wit: take "Ernest Borgnine", in which he obliquely reflects on his recent HIV diagnosis with reference to the late film bruiser, or "Black Belt", a caustic diatribe against an ex-lover that makes a quip out of the word "callipygian" – that's "having well-shaped buttocks", FYI.

"Pain it is a glacier … creating spectacular landscapes," he sings on "Glacier": a truth his career makes self-evident.