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


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.