John Grant – Glacier
Six months in and it has become fairly clear that here at Into the Popvoid we don’t seem to spend a lot of time talking about boys. Or male pop stars to be more precise. I’m as guilty as the next man, but I’ve made my peace with it and accept it merely as an involuntary leaning towards my natural tendencies. On a more basic level, it’s a simple acknowledgment that there’s really no justification for wasting time writing about Sam Smith when you could be writing more love letters to Taylor Swift. But I thought it was about time I gave a shout out to virtually the only other artist currently making music whose songs come anywhere close to Swift’s in the over-sharing department, Mr John Grant.
I’m constantly complaining about the fact that more and more artists, and thus the music they make, have (literally) nothing to say. Look, I’m not coming at this from somewhere preachy or an ‘I’m so worthy’ angle, I might just be one of the least intellectual or politically minded people I know – and I used to know someone who thought a chaise longue was actually a ‘shade long’, you know, because it was a ‘shade’ longer than a regular sofa – but I have space in my life for pop music with a higher IQ and more of a message than, ‘tonight’s gonna be a good, good, night’, or ‘this woman is my destiny, she said, “Ooh-ooh-hoo, shut up and dance with me”’. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about going ‘Full Bragg’ here. I don’t even mean the type of ‘politics-light’ bands I grew up NOT listening to, like The Specials or The Jam, I guess I mean the type of thing Madonna was doing during her, as Niall would say, ‘Imperial Phase’. Think empowerment anthems such as Papa Don’t Preach or Express Yourself or, bringing it up to date, I’ll even take Pink‘s multiple attempts to make the sentiment, “If you can’t love me just as I am…get stuffed,” into something hummable and impactful at radio.
Like Swift’s rallying cry to her pre (and post) teen army, to simply accept that those ‘haters gonna hate’ and to merely’ shake it off’, Grant’s solo output is similarly straight talking…although he’s much more likely to be singing about imminent death, mental breakdowns and neo-Nazis. Come on kids, sing along.
For me, Grant is at his best when he’s on the verge of ‘shaking off’ the after-effects of the countless misadventures he seems to find himself embroiled in – self-inflicted or otherwise. He’s at his most commanding and intriguing as an artist when he’s fighting back, done wallowing in his own misfortunes and has arrived at the point where he’s thinking, “Enough’s enough. I’m sure there’s some ice cream in the bottom of the freezer that’s going to make all this feel a whole lot better.” His voice becomes the light flowing into the darkest corners of your troubled mind, showing you the way and leading you home. Nowhere is this more powerful or compelling than on Glacier, the closing track on his second solo effort, Pale Green Ghosts.
Deathly slow, blackly menacing and clocking in at nearly eight minutes long, this is profoundly not pop as we know it – try as I might, I just can’t imagine competing versions of this jostling for victory in the upper reaches of the chart à la Macarena – but something contained within the ebb and flow of swooning strings and Grant’s mournful wail of a vocal is so engaging and inexplicably uplifting you literally feel like you’re listening to the song that’s going to save your life. If, during the simple piano accompanied vocal intro, you felt as if you were drowning in life’s choppiest, most unpredictable waters, each second that ticks by during the song’s opening verses drags you closer to shore and the safe haven of dry land. By the closing refrain of, “So, don’t you become paralysed with fear / When things seem particularly rough”, your life seems a much brighter place and you’re more or less ready to run away and open that flower stall in Provence you’ve always dreamed about. Admittedly, songs which have the power to turn listeners into florists aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and they will therefore probably remain fairly thin on the ground, but in terms of having lasting emotional impact, Grant’s anthem to grief, loneliness and the eventual dawning of self-belief is something to be fully embraced and probably should be made available on the National Health. Admittedly, Glacier is the type of song which might not sound great ‘whispering’ out of a tiny speaker on your phone, but undoubtedly hearing it in the right circumstances – loud and uninterrupted – it truly has the power to move you, stir up long stifled emotions and profoundly change you. Really, it’s that good. Okay, it’s not Style good, but it is pretty good all the same.
Unbelievably, Grant has yet to make his UK singles chart debut – and has thus far spent only six weeks on the corresponding albums listings. But with new album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure just around the corner and an impressive Tracey Thorn duet, Disappointing, acting as its opening fanfare, one can only hope his luck’s about to change. But, after closer inspection of the subject matter covered on Grey Tickles, Black Pressure it would seem a brace of songs about zombies, kids with cancer, crushing depression, global warming and recognising the startling similarities between Hitler and your neighbours, just can’t compete with an endless supply of club bangers or songs about cheerleaders and are unlikely to be anyone’s first choice for Now 92…thankfully.
Who could sing this today and have a hit? – I really want to hear Annie Lennox sing this, so how about a featured vocal on a collaboration track created and produced by Disclosure? Surely Mary J. Blige isn’t the only person over 25 that they’re ever going to work with?