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At this point it seems obvious, but John Grant is one of the finest songwriters working in music. Of course, this much has been clear throughout his career - from his time in The Czars, to 2013's Pale Green Ghosts - but it's easy to take that for granted. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is not only a collection of emotionally affecting, even heart-breaking songs, but also comes loaded with lines filled with dry humour and a witty turn of phrase. These lines often turn up in the strangest places, at one point lending a searingly dark humour to the title track. "I can't believe I missed New York back in the '70s / I could have gotten a head start in the world of disease," Grant muses in a song which charts a mix of dissatisfaction and disconnection with his life - grey tickles being the literal translation of the Icelandic phrase meaning mid-life crisis.

As the album opener proper, its blend of mournful strings, steady piano, percussion, and witty lyricism recalls tracks like 'GMF' and the album Queen of Denmark, as well as the '70s pop of David Bowie and Elton John. Lyrically it's a darker, and perhaps more nihilistic song than we've come to expect from Grant, but it's packaged with beautiful, if somewhat sad, instrumentation that delivers an emotional punch without overpowering Grant's vocals. This is common throughout the record, with even the tracks featuring denser arrangements keeping Grant front and centre.

'Snug Slacks' which immediately follows, takes on a more '80s new-wave vibe, a style we've not really seen Grant play into before. With his menacing spoken word performance recalling David Byrne's demonic vocals in 'Swamp' and the instrumentation a jerky, abrasive combination of guitars and synths, there's more than a touch of Talking Heads to the track. Yet Grant makes it his own, primarily by taking a far more direct approach (as opposed to Byrne's abstract lyricism), and using the song as a way of probing the psyche of an arrogant lover.

'You & Him' works almost as a companion track to 'Snug Slacks', both musically - it benefits from some chunky keyboard melodies in the verses courtesy of Bobby Sparks - and lyrically. The opening line "you're so hot / I bet you hear that a lot" could be seen as an extension of 'Snug Slacks' question of, "is it difficult being so beautiful?" An example of the angrier sound that Grant's admitted he's particularly proud of, the keys of 'You & Him' are matched with synthesised explosions and a blistering chorus of buzzing guitars and passive-aggressive bon mots.

Grey Tickles, Black Pressure is easily Grant's most musically diverse record to date, taking in sounds that Grant's worked with before (primarily in his solo career) and adding a more aggressive, abrasive rock element to some tracks. "I wanted to get moodier and angrier on this record," Grant says "but I probably had a lot more fun making it." That fun certainly translates on the record, with many tracks proving to be infectious, if fatalistic, fancies. Take lead single 'Disappointing' which sees Grant slipping back into disco following last year's collaboration with Hercules & Love Affair. Featuring a duet with Tracey Thorne, it constructs itself around a thick bass synth and clean electric guitar, whilst vocals soar majestically above. Choral cries and "shoop-a-doop" backing ensure this is a euphoric tribute to a love that turns even the highest art into a mere disappointment.

Even when the album isn't serving up infectious bass riffs and glistening guitar chords, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure offers beautifully constructed songs that, even in the darkest moments, offer a glimmer of hope. On 'No More Tangles' Grant is pitched against grand strings as he sings about self-assurance and determination. It acknowledges those trying to hold him back, but at the same time the strings, cinematic in scope, stir a fighting spirit which tell us that before the battle begins, our hero has already won. 'Black Blizzard' meanwhile sees Grant engaged in darker electronica, with a mechanical melody building under one of Grant's finest vocal performances. There's something liberating in the way his voice rises above the machinery of synths and clipped drums. It's thrilling and caps off a trio of songs (starting with 'Global Warming') that gradually build in intensity.

Whilst the album is bookended with a recitation of Corinthians 13 in different languages - setting out the record's thematic exploration of the varieties of love - the album reaches its true conclusion in 'Geraldine'. As with 'Sigourney Weaver' and 'Ernest Borgnine' it's influenced by an actor - namely Geraldine Page - and sees Grant asking how she dealt with the pressure and attention that comes as a result of fame. A gorgeous combination of strings and shimmering synths, it's a slow-burner that perhaps leaves its mark as the album's strongest moment. Grant's lyrics meanwhile, are searching, personal and fearful both for the late-actor and for himself. "Geraldine just tell me you didn't have to put up with that shit," he begs before later adding "we're not like them, we're not that strong / at least that's what we're told." It's heartbreaking and lays bare the soul of an artist struggling with the expectation that comes from adoration - a fitting sign off for an artist known to openly explore their own insecurities on record. It's undoubtedly a difficult situation to put oneself in, but the fact that Grant does, with such honesty and wit is what makes him one of the most interesting and affecting songwriters.

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