Lit’s Glorious Self-Deprecating Ode to Debauchery Turns 25

John Grant – The Art of the Lie
[PIAS] Recordings

A native Michigander who treats reticence like a pothole on the turnpike, John Grant has recorded six albums in which his attraction to keyboards matches his appetite for self-therapy. The Art of the Lie seems to present itself as a song cycle about coming to terms with your parents as an older gay man. “I’ve got the pose of a newborn giraffe,” he sings on “Marbles,” closer to a hymn than a disco banger. 

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The former Czars frontman leans hard on the balladry these days, and it’s been hell on his humor. Studded with attenuated synth passages over which Grant squeezes the poignancy out of vowels, The Art of the Lie is impressive as confessional but stolid if not boring as music. 

Musicians use vocoders as distancing devices—and because in the right contexts they sound cool. On seven-minute, detail-laden tracks like “Daddy,” however, they interfere with the focus he obviously wants people to pay to the lyrics; but just when you think he’s lost in the thickets, he writes a delicate chorus, as airy as a gown made of air. 

“Mother and Son” plants its feet and doesn’t move. Much better is “Meek AF,” in which the electro-groove matches Grant’s growl. It’s a trek through Trump’s America, where the singer, raised in a conservative Methodist home, mourns how the Bible’s become a manual for evil: not the Good Book but The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

Believing that we can make this Earth a more endurable place, Grant also realizes that we don’t have much common sense, not when libido and our instinct for destruction remain on the march and the pull of blood can be a painful exertion. He’s already recorded one masterpiece in 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts: one of the most articulate examinations of gay male middle age. The lesser entries in his impressive catalog show a restless intellect. 

Despite its longueurs, The Art of the Lie explains how happiness is an option, not a right. – GRADE: B

You can check out The Art of the Lie at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

[PIAS] Recordings

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