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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

John Grant – Queen of Denmark – Album Review

Religious family? Check. Gay? Check. Ex-drug and alcoholic addict? Check. Attempted suicide? Check. ABBA fan? Check. Welcome, to the colourful world of John Grant.

Written by Kat Phan

I’ve always been a fiend when it comes to graphic novels. It stems back down to a childhood as a bona fide geek, medications whom attended comic book conventions religiously and kept my collection in cellophane envelopes. It was Joseph Campbell who said that “Throughout the inhabited world, shop in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.” And in modern times, I’ve always seen the graphic novel as our primary manifestation of the modern myth.
So I get pretty worked up when I find out that Northampton born singer/songwriter VV Brown has collaborated with film-maker David Allain to produce a graphic novel ‘City of Abacus’ which will be released later in the year, and featured in an exhibition debuting at The Book Club this May.
Exiled in New York due to the volcanic debacle, I email interview VV Brown to get some insight into her new project.

How did you decide to transition from music into graphic novels? It was easy. I just did what I wanted to do. It was really fun to work with David Allain also and Emma Price.

What other graphic novels or artists have inspired you to explore this field?
I really love “A Jew in communist Prague” by Vittorio Giardino, “Tintin in Tibet” by Hergé, “Its a good life if you don’t weaken” by Seth,” Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid. There are so many. “Strangers in paradise: I dream of you” by Terry Moore and “The league of extraordinary men” by Alan Moore, who is from my home town Northampton

How did the collaboration with David Allain and Emma Price come about? Just friendships and creative juices flowing. David Allain is also a filmmaker and video director and he did my very first music video, Crying Blood.

Can you tell me a little bit about the concept behind ‘City of Abacus’? It’s about a city, which continues to suppress its people, and numbs down the minds of the individuals making them less creative. Its an epic tale of them being enlightened out of this quagmire.

Are you intending on expanding on stories outside of ‘City of Abacus’ or is this a one-off project? There will be 7 comics released each month between May and November and a graphic novel in December bringing all 7 comics together to read back to back as a novel. You can buy from www.thecityofabacus.com and an application for the iphone and ipad will be coming soon!

Having free-fallen into the darkest depths of despair after the imploding of his band The Czars in 2004, John Grant now makes a welcome return to the music scene with the help of Texas soft-rockers Midlake, more about who provide the acoustic backdrop for his rich, symptoms delicate, velvet-lined vocals.

Drawing on the musical influences of early 1970s Americana, reminiscent of Jackson Browne, Neil Young and – dareIsayit – Elton John, Grant’s debut solo offering does have an easy AM melody radio vibe to it; however, don’t be fooled as the stark contrast of the subject matter demands a closer listen.

Queen of Denmark is a heartbreaking and soul-baring record dealing with the joys and pains of love, depression, destruction, isolation, being gay, wanting to kill yourself, and redemption – so pretty light-hearted stuff, really.

The album opens with ‘TC and Honeybear’, a poignant torch song about insecurity, love and loss, showcasing Grant’s tender baritone bursting with emotion against neat finger picking, fluttering flute and celestial soprano. This is followed by ‘Marz’, a track with dreamy sentiments which wouldn’t sound out of place for an eerie film’s closing credits about lost youth. Here we are projected back to the comfort blanket days of Grant’s youth when life’s complexities passed him by. Grant wistfully reflects on the beauty of childhood innocence by listing the fantastic Willy Wonka-style names of sweets and treats of his local candy store.

Even when Grant is battling with his own crippling insecurities, he manages to do this with heart-clutching humour and sincerity. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ opens with melodramatic-infused synth, where he compares himself to the actress when she battles with the aliens; a parallel that he draws to how he was feeling following his move from Michigan to Colorado, on the cusp of puberty, and being ostracised at school for being gay.

In dealing with gloom, Grant often uses humour and wit as an antidote for his pain and suffering, which he demonstrates aptly in the sprightlier ‘Silver Platter Club’. As orchestral string arrangements are traded for Beatles-inspired ragtime, complete with parade-style trumpet, Grant gets his own back by poking fun at the ‘jocks’ he went to school with who had the looks, athleticism and natural effortless masculinity, which he longed for when he was growing up, along with the durable personality: ”I wish I had no self awareness like the guys I know…who float right through their lives without a thought”.

This upbeat pace continues to weave itself into the record’s tapestry in ‘Jesus Hates Faggots’, where Grant draws on his traumatised experience of growing up gay in a religious household in small town America to direct his bile against his family and conventional society as a whole. Grant dramatically opens with: “I’ve been uncomfortable since the day I was born” to muted synth and dirty bass, with further revealing lyrics about having to face his internal demons about coming to terms with his sexuality: “I can’t believe that I’ve considered taking my own life because I believed the lies about me were the truth”.

In ‘Caramel’, Grant adopts a Jeff Buckleyesque vibrato to expose himself like an egg without as shell on one of the strongest tracks on the album. Essentially a tale of an overwhelming and consuming love, the honest and tender lyrics accompanied by simplistic piano and hypnotic synth leaves you with the feeling of being suspended into the thick darkness of space, drifting to the edges of the unknown, whilst admiring the luminous beauty of the stars from afar.

The album comes to a dramatic close with title track ‘Queen of Denmark’, which takes on a Nilsson-cum-Meatloaf slant, lyrically delivered with heartbreaking yet humorous candour: “I wanted to change the world but I couldn’t change my underpants…(my hairline) keeps receding like my self confidence”. A highly charged ballad that deals with relationship and self-destruction alike, Grant’s vocals swell with his distaste for himself and the world in general to the point where he is almost exploding with anger and frustration. A bipolar track which has Grant swinging between emotional extremes like a pendulum, it’s a raw and honest account of a person on the verge of complete annihilation and a fitting grand finale to an album fuelled by a deadly cocktail of impossible pain, regret, fear, alienation, hatred, anger and self-discovery.

Despite the danger of being labelled as just another emotionally battered singer-songwriter, Grant manages to succeed where others have failed by combining his deeply sad experiences with caustic wit and foresaking his dignity to gain compassion and sympathy. However, all of this is not without credit to Midlake. If Grant’s warm baritone and heartfelt lyrics are a high-rolling Michelin-starred gourmet meal then Midlake’s flawless orchestral arrangements would be the fine vintage wine washing it down.

The path of transforming pained experiences into exquisite art forms is a well trodden one and Queens of Denmark is certainly Grant’s testament to this. For someone who has suffered such debilitating self-criticism and self-hatred throughout their lives to the point where they have even questioned the notion of living, you can’t help but want Grant to succeed.

And with the album released to critical acclaim, a US tour already underway and a European tour starting in June, Mr Grant’s darker days may have well and truly found their place behind him.

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2 Responses to “John Grant – Queen of Denmark – Album Review”

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for the article. I really enjoy listening to Midlake especially “Trials of Van Occupanther” and their new album “The Courage of Others”. So, I checked out “Queen of Denmark” and listened to some tracks and I think it’s quite good. Midlake does bring up the ante for the singer but his lyrics are haunting. The album is quite depressing in a way though….*sigh*.

  2. Gianfranco from London says:

    Yet another positive review of the best album of the year and – I’m sure a lot of you would agree – one of the greatest albums ever. I won’t stop raving about The Queen of Denmark any time soon. Plus, the gig at the Jazz Cafe in Camden the other night was superb.

    Long live the Queen of Denmark!

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