To be honest, I’d only written about this one less than a fortnight ago, so trying to find something new to explain why this so quickly became such a strong favourite of mine seemed a bit tricky. Then I listened to it again.
This year has been full of good and great records – I’m not sure if this is because it has been freakishly good compared to recent years, or if I had been a bit more careful about looking for stuff to listen to for the purposes of keeping myself occupied with this blog. However it happened, I’m thrilled that it did.
Other Number 1: John Grant – Queen of Denmark
In conversation with a friend yesterday evening, I mentioned this album and why I loved it so much, going on about how it had been born from awful experiences and how beautiful it was portrayed. “It’s been done” came the response, and not unfairly so – musical history is littered with examples of this sort of thing. Where Queen of Denmark works so well above all the others is the way that John Grant approaches his demons; by reverting musically and lyrically to an idyllic childhood that may or may not have been rose-tinted by bleaker, more recent tribulations.
The first three tracks on first listen set the scene somewhat deceptively – the musical themes are there with soaring 1970s hooks and a background vocalist who evokes the theme tune to Star Trek, but the lyrics are straightforward and sad, relating the story of a failed relationship and a desire to visit the sweetshop of his youth. Where it begins to get extremely interesting though is from the next song – Sigourney Weaver articulates difficult feelings of abject helplessness by comparing them to the heroine of the Alien films. This sounds really silly when expressed as text on a screen, but in the context of the sentiments of QoD it’s a perfect articulation of his situation, as well as making the sentiment fit the chronology of the overall album’s feel.
This knowing take on his life’s events continue apace, with bubbles of the blackest humour coming to the surface unexpectedly – in Chicken Bones for example, the daily chaotic destitution of his addictions are described over an unexpectedly jaunty tune and cheerfully sweary chorus, but in amongst all this are genuinely dark and saddening moments. Caramel seems to take on the same disastrous theme as opener TC and the Honeybear, and JC Hates Faggots is barely-restrained hatred towards the community who persecuted him.
What truly sets this apart from other albums of this ilk is that unlike similar bleak-outlooked records (In Utero, Pink Moon, At the Cut to name three brilliant but doomed albums off the top of my head) is that with the closing, title track where John absolutely has a very public go at himself and his perceived faults, there is a genuine and positive redemptive edge to every word he says. This is the soundtrack to someone slowly and painfully dragging himself up which would be discomforting for anyone to witness, but thanks to some amazing music thanks to this collaboration with Midlake and a sense of humour willing to expose each wound and raw nerve and coat it with a faint, wry smile seems to show that he may well be onto something here with his approach.
So yeah, it’s impossible to describe properly. All I can do is implore you to give this a listen for yourself.