John Grant – ‘Love is Magic’ review

A silly, smutty slice of arch brilliance that also makes room for quiet introspection, the American musicians's fourth album is an accomplished balancing act

An epic of squelching synthesisers and breathlessly far-ranging lyrics – touching on everything from broccoli and cheese to ISIS – John Grant’s fourth solo album, ‘Love Is Magic’ leaves nothing untouched. An often absurd search for meaning in a world jammed full of white noise, violence and distraction, the prevailing message beneath the onslaught is a simple one: “Love is magic, whether you like it or not”.

Pursuing a slinking strain of electronica, often bringing to mind the campy gasps that punctuate Sébastien Tellier’s ‘Sexuality’ – ‘Love is Magic’ is jam-packed with arch humour. ‘Diet Gum’, a drawled diatribe against an ex he hates with almost comical passion, is perhaps Grant at his wittiest, perfectly nailing the conflicted blend of despising and lusting after someone at the same time. “I think your group would be called a patheticness of fuckwits!” he spits in halting half-rap delivery. His conviction fading to resignation over over seven minutes of minimal Italo-nodding disco. Eventually his morals crumble, and all it takes is some minor seduction. “Yeah… I guess you did keep me up all night a few times”.

‘Preppy Boy’ and ‘Smug Cunt’ are just as sharp; the latter delivers nod-nod-wink-wink gems like, “If you’ve got an opening, I am unemployed”. And “I think Colonel Mustard… did it in the billiard room,” is the silliest, smuttiest slice of lyrical brilliance on ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’.

For majority of ‘Love is Magic’, Grant devotes much attention to exploring how love can be many things, namely: difficult, annoying, painful, a complete pain, and accidentally hilarious. Such constant archness could grow tiresome, but in the final three tracks – which return to deeper territory that’s reminiscent of his previous work – John Grant digs out the narratives beneath the earlier flippancy. “I let you down; that’s what keeps me up at night,” he admits on ‘Is He Strange’ , possibly referring back more seriously to ‘Diet Gum’. And closing track ‘Touch and Go’ is a sincere love song of sorts, addressed to the American activist and whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

For all its fast-paced absurdness, ‘Love Is Magic’ carves out quiet moments, too. These tiny, rare diamonds stud a world that can so often feel completely evil. It’s a balancing act that Grant ultimately pulls off.