John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

John Grant Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Opening and closing an album with readings of the same bible verse (1st Corinthians 13:4) is a bold move for any artist to make, but for former Czars frontman John Grant, it seems fairly par for the course. On Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, Grant's third solo album, the American-born, now Iceland-based crooner unabashedly addresses aging (Grey Tickles is an Icelandic translation for midlife crisis), politics, love and sexuality and his recent HIV diagnosis (Black Pressure is a Turkish translation for nightmare) with character-defining dark humour and honesty.

One needn't wait long to hear Grant's upfront appraisal of his condition in the existential scheme of things, as the chorus for the second song and title track laments, "I'm supposed to believe there is a guy that will take the pain away / There are children who have cancer, and so all bets are off / Because I can't compete with that." Notwithstanding a heavy synthesized three-song segue into the libido zone ("Snug Slacks," "Guess How I Know" and "You and Him"), Grant remains unflinchingly blunt in his dissection of fear and apprehension relating to the human condition, continuing on "Down Here," in which he sings macabre lyrics made all the more grim by his brooding baritone.

Grant's songwriting approach is similar to that of Father John Misty; it's smooth, articulate and downright literary, possessing a matter-of-fact delivery that seems to encourage discourse on the topics being discussed. He's a curmudgeon, too, labelling opponents as twats and troglodytes while synth notes pop and burst in the background.

Sonically, Grant enlists the help of John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans) to polish his takes on '70s blue-eyed soul and glam ("Grey Tickles, Black Pressure"), epic stoner rock ("Magma Arrives," "Black Blizzard"), German Kraftwerk-ian keyboard pop ("Snug Slacks") and Nine Inch Nails warehouse metal ("Guess How I Know") to complement his "moodier and angrier" ambitions. (Nevado)