John Grant: Pale Green Ghosts – album review

John Grant ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ (Bella Union or Partisan Records (US only))
Available now

The new album by the ever impressive Bella Union recording star who is John Grant.

Having flippantly announced one Sunday afternoon a couple of years ago that I was about to wade through a couple of inches of water because I wanted to see “someone like Elton John (the 1970s version not the 1980s version)” and got to see …well, a bloke playing a big piano in a field, I considered myself having had a successful day.

However, Having the enthusiasm to see John Grant was achieved by a little bit of background work that year, namely a song called “Where dreams go to die” and an album called “The Queen of Denmark” which he made with help of his backing band for the project, MIDLAKE.

I never did discover how he managed to get that huge piano in there and I admit that comparing John Grant to Elton John is a bit lazy.

….and as you’ll know by now, lazy is my middle name. (it’s not . It’s Alan.). I could have said Stevie Wonder (I’ve stopped talking about middle names now by the way), but he’s not like Stevie Wonder.
Or Gilbert O’sullivan.

As I said, he’s a bloke that when I saw him , was sat at a piano.
And now you know as much as I did a couple of years ago and you don’t have to sit in a field for four days to discover this.

Seeing and hearing this man whilst he sat at the piano that day is probably the only non-surprising thing that John Grant has done when those two big flaps of flesh either side of my face have been anywhere near his music.

“Pale Green Ghosts” begins as a surprise. He could have just shouted BOOOO!!! really loud but he didn’t.
He’s transported himself into the electro world we all sometimes visit and it’s a world that I never imagined John Grant to inhabit.
So with a soiled welcome mat well trodden on it’s a pleasure to get our mitts on this and trawl through an album that continues to present us with a few surprises throughout.
Opening track and title track “Pale Green Ghosts” first makes you shudder with fear that this man has gone all GRIMES on us…he has in a way and there’s nothing wrong with this as we all like a little dance every now and then don’t we?
This is a very good move to make on us the listener and we throw away the candle lit dinner we were about to sit down and have , clear all the furniture away to have our own little disco around the room instead.
It’s a killer tune as they say….I’ll be using this to pump up the adrenalin just before my next boxing match.
However by track three “GMF” we’re scraping our dinner off the floor, relighting those candles and chewing the first big mouthful before he announces to us all that he is the “Greatest Mother Fucker that you’re ever gonna meet, from the top of my head down to the tips of the toes on my feet”.
This isn’t meant to happen you think to yourself but it has, and yes, by this time he’s reverted back to the sound we fell in love with on “Queen of Denmark” and the transition is rather appealing.
And then he starts sneaking in some more of those well panned electro beats that the man with the big glasses and dodgy hair could do with being inspired by himself if he was clever.


This has all been recorded in Iceland where John Grant teamed up with various people he met whilst gigging there a couple of years ago. Sinead O’Connor makes an appearance on backing vocals a couple of times and the bloke that sat behind him when I saw him a few years ago, namely Chris Pemberton also makes his presence felt, as does electronic musician Birgir Þórarinsson (a.k.a. Biggi Veira) of electro-pop group GUS GUS.

This is a funny, angry, heart breaking, honest and rather dark album.
At times, as lovely as these tunes appear on first listen they do transcend into making John Grant sound as though he’s been bottling a few things up during his dramatic life. Listen to this without taking notice of his lyrics and this is a rather nice, comfortable album to listen to. Start getting too comfortable and before you realise, you’re digesting what he’s singing about and you notice he’s a bit pissed off with one or two things that have crossed his path, places he’s found himself in and the people in it. He sings about his venerability and his anger that he’s felt over the years and every now and then he let’s rip when you’re least expecting it (“letting rip” in this case being simply swearing which is still a surprise every time he does it).
“Why don’t you love me” covers all of the above and ask’s what it says in the title.
“Sensitive new age guy” may or may not be a tongue in cheek tittle but is another of those feet tapping bass drum lead tunes that don’t sound a million miles from Heaven 17 or the more current LCD Soundsystem.

It’s not all bleak though…The title track recalls a favourite moment of John Grant’s which was a simple sounding journey he made on a weekly basis when he was younger to seek out a better place. By driving from Parker to the nearby metropolis of Denver, Colorado where the new wave dance clubs were that he could breathe in a few influences and realise there was a good place to go during the 80s
A place a bit like where we sometimes feel we’re at ourselves maybe?
But in a different country.
In a different century……..and without the drive.
And thankfully he’s written a decent song about it. Whereas we just lean against the bar drinking shit overpriced lager and complaining about the tubes being delayed.

This is well worth a listen – whether your feeling angry yourself…or just wanting to chill out, this album suits most moods.
Such is the amount of sincerity on this album that I actually believe him when he tells me he’s quite possibly the “Greatest Mother fucker that you’re ever gonna meet”

So not Like Elton at all then.

Oh! and his ex-has the same name as our CAT.

See John Grant at;

Bath Komedia May 7
O2 Oxford May 8
Library , The Institute Birmingham May
Metropolitan Uni Leeds May 11
Queens Hall Edinburgh May 12
The Ritz Manchester May 14
Shepherds Bush Empire London May 15
St George’s church Brighton May 16
Junction Cambridge May 18
Open Norwich May 19

All words by Keith Goldhanger. More work by Keith on Louder Than War can be found here.

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Keith Goldhanger -- Spent the 90's as a frontman with London noisemerchants HEADBUTT - spent the 80's in "Peel favourites" BASTARD KESTREL. Spent a few years mashing up tunes and remixing bands as HIDEOUS WHEEL INVENTION. Is often out and about getting in the way of things and bumping his head on low ceilings - drinks real ale, takes photo's has made a few short films. Will give your band the time of day but will dislike any band that balances full pints of alcohol on the top of guitar amps (Not keen on lead singers that wear hats either).


  1. At last. Better late than never, I suppose.
    For me, this is my favourite album of the year thus far. The lyrics are brutally honest and sincere. The songwriting is outstanding and then, there’s THAT voice.

    Yeah, it is a dark album, focusing much on his past, more recent sobriety and ex lover. Add to those themes his struggle with being diagnosed HIV+ in 2011, when he was writing the album and there’s little wonder it’s got more than a hint of melancholy about it.

    To follow up such an outstanding debut [Queen of Denmark] with something equally as captivating and filled with acerbic wit, irony and sarcasm is quite an achievement – by anyone’s standards.
    In my opinion, John is one of the finest male singer / songwriters that we have releasing music today.

    Roll on May, and those UK live dates.


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