Upon first listen to an album that flits between seemingly whimsical matters of broccoli and cheese sauce to diet gum and hot Brazilian boys, one would be forgiven for merely scratching its surface. It’s only on the second and third (and fourth and fifth) listen to Love Is Magic, John Grant’s fourth studio album as a solo artist, that true appreciation can be found.
After the sheer wackiness loses its immediacy, the authenticity of Grant’s latest body of work becomes more apparent and the world is given a whole new way of experiencing the American musician. It’s his most electronic yet and, while previous album’s have had their fair share of synths, Love is Magic deep dives into the gritty nostalgia of ’80s electronica and pop.
To set the scene, ‘Metamorphosis’ throttles the listener neck-deep into the odd. A throbbing Casio keyboard hook accompanies lyrics like “14 year old boy rapes 80 year old man / Tickets to the Met / Sweetcorn from the can”.
Similarly, ‘Diet Gum’ does not shy from the lyrical abstraction as it tells the story of a scorned lover, childishly venting his frustrations on an ex he calls “Dr Turdface” and “Stupidzilla”. Stupid though it may seem on the face of it, there’s a normality and silly reality to these jabs that keep the album grounded, even at its loosest.
While this recurring quality throughout Love is Magic so nearly veers on the side of annoying, it’s crucial in contextualising the broader themes that Grant expresses in its 10 tracks. It also makes for a few genuinely laugh out loud moments on the album, not a common feat for an electronic artist as established as Grant. But then again,, Grant’s work has always had an edge of dark, wry humour to it – just listen to ‘GMF’ (Greatest Mother Fucker) the tongue in cheek ballad from Pale Green Ghosts. Even on his stand-out, sardonic ballad ‘Queen of Denmark’ it was impossible to not smirk at the cutting, self-depreciating imagery.
Amidst the insanity of ‘Metamorphosis’, there’s an interlude of calm. The song brings a slow and sombre passage where Grant laments the grief and guilt he experienced while dealing with the death of his mother: “As I enjoyed distraction/ She just slipped away”, he yearns before launching back into the same absurd entertainment heard at the beginning of the track.
Following on from this is the title track, which poignantly evokes the idea that even with all the pain we humans experience, through mental difficulties, financial struggles, health issues, “Love is magic/ Whether you like it or not/ It isn’t so tragic/ It’s just a lie that you bought/ When the door opens up for you/ Don’t resist, just walk on through’. It’s an unconventional love song and an ode to Love itself, which underneath its gritty exterior, is rather uplifting. Pair this with bubbling synths and echoing vocal harmonies and this is one of the album’s several highlights.
‘Preppy Boy’ and ‘Smug Cunt’ are eqaully wedged with weird and humorous lyrical gems – The latter’s “If you’ve got an opening, then I am unemployed” is a delightful double entendre. The track that will get stuck in your head and is most likely to make you dance though is ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’, complete with a Bowie reminiscent, disco-glam chorus.
Grant’s authenticity is the take home piece from this album. When stripped apart, he depicts personal and real life experiences, through a blur of stream of consciousness lyricism, bizarre and nerve-racking at times. Life can often be a rush of craziness, grief, humour, love and in between it all, there are moments of clarity. This is conveyed powerfully throughout Love is Magic. Shannon McNamee