Label: Bella Union Release date: 19/04/10 Link: Myspace John Grant has his fair share of demons. Growing up gay in a strict religious household in Denver, Colorado Grant escaped into music and formed The Czars, signing to label Bella Union. After the messy implosion of his beloved but sadly overlooked band, Grant battled with drugs & alcohol and subsequent depression (Grant admits to having considered suicide) and spent his days waiting tables, sinking deeper into the void. All things considered, it is a wonder this record exists at all. Seeing the gloomy and creatively stagnant state of their label mate, musical fairy godfathers Midlake came to the rescue, offering their services as a backing band and so Queen Of Denmark was born – a deeply satisfying, powerful and emotional critique of the human condition. Grant uses his considerably skill as a lyricist and social commentator to work through his long list of issues on this record creating an opus that is both sad and laugh-out-loud funny in equal measure. Love and heartbreak is a resounding theme on this album, and nowhere is this more poignantly shown as in beautiful album opener ‘TC & Honeybear’ – a cry out to a lost love and an epic study in male insecurity, all wrapped up together in the familiar pastoral flute and guitar picking acoustica of Midlake. ‘Caramel’ is a stunning stripped back piano-led love letter with a touch of the Anthony Hegartys or Jeff Buckleys about it. Insecurity and the feeling of being a perennial outsider are also leading influences on Queen Of Denmark. Grant is constantly distracted by the idea of space travel and the idealism of other worlds. The final frontier is, after all, the ultimate destination for the displaced and dissatisfied – when the world we live in cannot offer the answers we so strongly desire, then we look to the skies. Lead single ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’ talks of escaping the mundane to go ‘where green rivers flow/and your sweet sixteen is waiting for you after the show.’ ‘Outerspace’ is a trippy piece of psychedelic 70’s space pastiche indebted to The Carpenters foray into the world of the extraterrestrial ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’. Often on this album we see the familiar Midlake folk/pop mix together with spacey synths and bleeps in the Barbarella Sci-fi mould and it is surprisingly successful. Although Grant has cut his bleeding heart open for all to see on this album, he is at no point self pitying or mawkish, but instead maintains a wry sense of humour teamed with a rare self awareness. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ sees Grant compare the complexity of his troubles to the problems facing ‘Sigourney Weaver/when she had to kill those aliens’ or like Winona Ryder in the film Dracula when she couldn’t get the accent right ‘and neither could that other guy’. ‘Jesus hates Faggots’ is the bold tale of his religious father dealing (or not dealing) with his son’s homosexuality. Opening with ‘I felt uncomfortable/since the day that I was born’ and referencing his thoughts of suicide, it then proceeds to list all the things Jesus hates according to his dad. ‘Morons who cut in line, three bean salad and parking fines’ are amongst the main offenders not to mention ‘homos’, ‘fruitloops’ and ‘faggots’. Even kangaroos are on the list. A serious subject matter approached with a healthy dollop of irreverence and cynicism makes it one of the most comically piquant and mouth gapingly brave commentaries on religious homophobia and prejudice to appear on record in recent years. Musically this record is solid - Grant is a brilliant pianist as well as songwriter –but it’s influences are a little too overpowering in places, perhaps bordering on the derivative. This fades into insignificance, however, when teamed up with the dark lyrical genius of Grant. His rich baritone is reminiscent of Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon or a less melodramatic Rufus Wainwright and is so hypnotically smooth that occasionally it comes as a jolting surprise when his acerbic and mirthful lyrics finally register. With Midlake putting one foot out of their bucolic comfort zone and happily embracing 70’s MOR synths, together they have quietly produced a beautiful, powerful and brilliant piece of work. A cathartic masterpiece. Photobucket