1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 346

Queen of Denmark, by John Grant
Suggested by Matt Smith

There’s an old, hoary saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s a simple suggestion, and one that bears repeating, so it can be forgiven for becoming something of a cliché. Things should not be judged on surface frippery. They should be measured by the quality of the soul, the strength of the heart.

This does a great disservice to those in the Book Cover industry. Imagine, all your hard work denigrated, your career deemed shallow and fickle, on a daily basis, likely by ugly people looking for a little self-worth. And in the modern world, gleaming production values for such thing have never been cheaper or easier to attain, so there’s no excuse for a slapdash clipart pic and a dollop of Comic Sans. Unless you’re being ironic, of course. In which case, you do you, Alanis.

I’ll admit, I went in to my listen of John Grant’s Queen of Denmark in full judgmental mode, regarding both the album cover, and (inexplicably) the man’s name. First, the cover. It’s a disturbing, out-of-focus nightmare, a faux-candid snap of, I presume, John Grant himself, at a hotel window, likely naked, over-exposed and double-faced, black eyes like a Supernatural demon, sporting a Burger King crown. Burger King! Biggie Smalls beat you to it, dude.

And then there’s his name! “John Grant.” Talk about unimaginative! You’re a rock star, not an insurance underwriter. shop a little verve. Englebert Humperdink points and laughs at you.

With this scathing review under my belt, and a swaggering sneer on my lips, I moseyed into the music with expectations so low that a world champion limbo star would stop and say “nah mate, that’s too low.”

What I heard legitimately blew me away.

Starting with the dreamy and echoing TC & Honeybear and ending with the delicate and urban-0rchestral title track Queen of Denmark, the boringly-named John Grant brought an urbane wit and a lightness of touch that surprised, enthralled and excited. The tracks are gentle affairs, soothing and rippling pieces of guitar and piano layered atop slowly tempered backing, with the odd synth or percussive choice that stops it becoming repetitive. It’s lovely, understated stuff, that does enough to carry the message and add filigree to the form without being in your face or overpowering.

By far the most compelling aspect of John Grant’s work is his lyricism. His vocal is conversational yet melodious, slightly high, and piled with echo to add a specific gravitas. There’s more than a hint of there Might Be Giants here, in both the sound and the playful content, but it all hangs together a with more solidity than the fractured nuggets from Brooklyn’s Kings of Quirk. The subject matter is eclectic yet personal, and always supremely interesting.

Songs? Sigourney Weaver is fantastic, in which John Grant compares his situation to that of Sigourney, and more. Chicken Bones is excellent, as is the anti-privilege anthem Silver Platter Club. But I can’t in good conscience suggest anything other than the blistering attack on parental duty that is Jesus Hates Faggots. Give it a listen, in a safe environment.

Queen of Denmark gets an unequivocal 9/10. It’s marvellous. I am giddy to hear more of John’s work, and am so pleased that this book was so much more than its uninspiring cover.

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