“The American Dream is not for weak soft-hearted fools” and neither is this record. Ever the open book, ‘Boy From Michigan’ is John Grant at his most autobiographical, but like pages ripped out of a diary, it can be a tad self-indulgent. Produced by Welsh avant-pop artist and longtime friend Cate Le Bon, 12 tracks stretch to over 75 minutes, with title track and opener afforded an expansive two minute intro instrumental. John Grant is taking the scenic route, but don’t worry, he brought a map.
Dubbed ‘The Michigan Trilogy’, the first three songs off the top of the album span Grant’s formative years- where he came from before moving to Denver at age 12. The childlike wonder of County Fair lulls you into a false sense of security, “I will never forget the things I saw that night/I felt so much love and everything was alright”, with Marz-like nostalgia galore, until Rusty Bull brings awareness to a sense of unease- something chilling, unsettling, bubbling under the surface; it’s a feeling that permeates throughout.
So far so strange, it’s everything you’d expect from a John Grant record. 8’0s nostalgia? Check. Inner child therapy? Check. Wrangling with sexuality? On Mike & Julie, that’s checked off the list too, “I know I can’t run away all my life/ But I’ll be damned if I let someone else decide who I am/ or who I’ll become”.
Like Love is Magic there’s always room for introspection, but ‘Boy From Michigan’ takes it to cosmic proportions. An expanse of synth, drifting off with occasional flourishes of clarinet or saxophone, the album is brought back to earth by quintessential keyboard ballads in the form of The Cruise Room and Just So You Know.
Dictionaries at the ready while Grant flexes his linguistic prowess, with a smattering of Russian verse in Your Portfolio, and spat-out German grammar on Rhetorical Figure, as he throws around words like paraprosdokians, and epizeuxis. “I decline and conjugate therefore I am/ Essen-ab-Gegessen/ Flechten-floght-gefloghten/ Gieben-goss-gegossen/ Klingen-klang-geklungen/Helfen-half-geholfen”
Grant gives us an ecology lesson in Best In Me, from the ultra rare Titania’s Fritillary to the poisonous American Dagger. In a more straightforward manner than The Common Snipe, he lists off species of moth before a vocoder heavy chorus of “you bring out the best in me/ so i’ll be careful in my killing spree”.
From here, things starts to unravel, but not without a few jabs at the state of the States on The Only Baby. Released as the first single after the storming of the Capitol, it draws the link between America’s blood-stained history of colonialism and christianity with capitalism, “that Thing in the White House, that’s the only baby that bitch could have”.
‘Boy from Michigan’ is a reflective but visceral portrait of the so-called American Dream, on a personal and national level. As the title track warns, “Beware when you go out there”, it’s not for the faint of heart, it’ll eat you alive if you’re not careful. That is, if it doesn’t eat itself first.