At the tender age of 50, John Grant finally feels comfortable enough to shed his own skin.
Three years after Gray Tickles, Black Pressure, Grant offers his fourth solo album Love Is Magic as an homage to all things ‘80s. Having all but abandoned the soft-rock stylings of his earlier work, much of what is found here wouldn’t feel out of place on a Stranger Things soundtrack.
‘Metamorphosis’ kicks things off with an unhinged stream of consciousness before melting into strung-out introspection. It offers a brief moment of reprieve as Grant reflects on the death of his mother “as I enjoyed distraction, she just slipped away…” before returning to its synth-heavy mania.
An uneasy start, but now you can feel free to enjoy the generous helpings of analogue synthesizers that Love Is Magic has to offer. Scattered with video game sound effects, ‘Tempest’ throws you headfirst into an ’80s arcade, following Grant as he takes you deeper into the hideaway of his conservative youth.
“We can hang out in the mall, away from the hordes/Almost reached those nasty green boards.”
Love Is Magic is undeniably Grant’s most upbeat album to date, oozing more confidence and outright hilarity than previous offerings. ‘Smug Cunt’ is the quintessential Trump-era political diatribe: “All the girls think you’re a stud/Even though your hands are covered in blood/And they’re turned on by your cover-ups.”
For the central third of the album, he brings the funk. ‘Preppy Boy’ is an electro-pop banger where he fantasises about his former high school bully, and ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’ has ‘80s imagery so fresh you can smell the bearskin rug.
‘The Common Snipe’ showcases Grant’s more serious side – through a study of exotic birds’ mating habits, he finds it’s the flight of the common snipe he returns to. It’s a great allegory for his relationship with his now-ex, appropriate as the mating call of the Common Snipe or Hrossagaukur, is considered to be the first sign of summer in Iceland.
For the final tracks, Grant pares things back and returns to his trademark candour. ‘Touch and Go’ – an outpouring of empathy for Chelsea Manning – leaves us with a powerful ending statement: “You can’t stop the progress of the truth, try as you might.”
Love Is Magic is an album book-ended by metamorphoses, but with all its strangeness in between, a lot can be lost in the noise. At its core, there is a warmth and serenity here coming from a man who once grappled with accepting his sexuality, and finally experiences a degree of comfort with who he is now. It shows just how far Grant himself has come, and how much further he is willing to go.