Despite the ripple of cosmic, Vangelistic synth that opens John Grant’s fifth album, the sardonic troubadour is looking not to the future, but to his past. Formative memories weigh heavy on this record, produced by Welsh wonder Cate Le Bon: the emergent sexuality fighting to stay hidden on the dreamy, clarinet-haunted textures of Mike and Julie; the lush, impressionistic amble through the stalls on County Fair, couched in Cocteau Twins guitar glimmer and Beach Boys harmonies.
It’s a new mood for Grant, more sombre and leaning more to his piano balladeer side than the oblique electronic antics of 2018’s Love Is Magic. The rich emotional immersion falters a little as he attempts to draw a line from personal traumas to the present-day nightmares of the US on the likes of Your Portfolio, an extended money = massive dong metaphor modelled in dark, sex-dungeon techno or The Only Baby, an overlong, dirgey meditation on Trump. Boy from Michigan doesn’t quite stick the landing as Grant forgoes his customary high-wire balance of wit and wry emotion for a more direct style. But it’s rich in bittersweet beauty and surreal levity, from the Scott Walker-esque piano melancholy of The Cruise Room to the tricksterish prancing of Rhetorical Figure, a lit-crit love letter to Devo.