Album Reviews

John Grant – The Art Of The Lie

(Bella Union) UK release date: 14 June 2024

Heavy on the vocoder and hard work at times, his sixth album still contains evidence that he is one of the most interesting and challenging songwriters out there

John Grant - The Art Of The Lie Two years ago, John Grant was invited by Grace Jones to perform at her curated Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. It was an invite that was, eventually, to lead to the Canadian’s sixth album, after he met Jones’ engineer Ivor Guest, who’s taken on production duties on The Art Of The Lie.

The first thing to note about The Art Of The Lie is that this isn’t the fun, funky John Grant who gave us Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, or even the languid balladeer of Queen Of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts. This is a far more downbeat version of Grant – it’s not exactly an easy listen, with topics like the rollback of LGBTQIA+ rights in the USA, the resurgence of MAGA and, above all, childhood trauma and family issues.

It does begin with some brilliantly lithe disco-funk though in the shape of the opening All That School For Nothing. Allegedly written for Blondie who rejected it, it’s a swaggering introduction to the album, like Talking Heads rebranding themselves as a G-Funk outfit and employing George Clinton as producer.

It’s a trick repeated later on with It’s A Bitch, full of stabby synths and some self-deprecating lyrics which manages to use the word “cacoethes”, reference a part of the brain called Medulla Oblongata and namedrop the Bauhaus track Bela Legosi’s Dead, all in just over four minutes. Tracks like the aforementioned are the sound of Grant having fun, but they’re outliers on The Art Of The Lie. The overall mood is sombre, with many songs taking their time to unwind – there are several tracks which top the seven minute mark. Sometimes the length of songs is justified: Marbles becomes weirdly unsettling, mixing in some discordant guitar scrawl with big synths, while at other times, such as The Child Catcher, it comes perilously close to self-indulgence.

There’s a big reliance on vocoders too, which is a self-defeating choice when you have such a brilliantly luxurious vocalist as Grant. A beautiful ballad like Father has the potential to be up there with Grant’s finest work like Glacier – it’s unbelievably moving, as most of Grant’s self-referential lyrics are (“I feel ashamed because I couldn’t be the man you always hoped that I would become”) but Grant’s voice is so slathered in auto-tune that some of the emotion has been removed.

Mother And Son and Daddy cover similar lyrical territory and are equally devastating. The former has a odd musical similarity to The Beatles‘ She’s Leaving Home and brings Scottish musician Rachel Sermanni to duet with Grant to powerful effect. Daddy is a more minimal ballad and takes a bit too much time to unfold, but it isn’t without its poignant moments.

It means that moments like the mischievous Meek AF – a dirty, lascivious electro-pop stroll through the Bible Belt of America – sound like blessed relief next to the more tortured moments. There are swipes at Trump (“everybody knows that Jesus wants you rich, the art of the lie, your new sales pitch”), religious bigotry (“no son of yours will ever be a fag, even if you have to drag him around the town behind your truck”) and a mid-song rap that somehow adds an extra funky dimension.

There’s a lot to love about The Art Of The Lie, but it also feels a bit like hard work at times: the pair of songs that close the album, Laura Lou and Zeitgeist are both heavy on the vocoder which you feel you’ve heard far too much of over the past hour. While this may not touch the impressive heights of some of his previous records, there’s still enough evidence that John Grant remains one of the most interesting and challenging songwriters out there.

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