Queen of Denmark is the album John Grant was meant to create, after over a decade in local Denver band the Czars, John had toured the Western world with high acclaim. But like so many Rock ‘n’ Roll stories the band's story was riddled with conflict and pain. The band notoriously went down in flames and for a few years he continued to perform under the Czars moniker with a rotating cast, until a little lucky star shone in his direction through the Austin band Midlake. This amazing and talented band befriended him in his time of need, and with all the pain and wisdom he had garnered over the years John recorded this truly autobiographical musical journey.
John's voice is one of those deep beautiful timbres that reminds me of a Nick Cave, but his writing style has always reminded me of Joni Mitchell, and he has an appreciation for vivid imagery. He gives a nod to the great seventies band ABBA in the odyssey "Barbarella", and there is also a tinge of influence from Bread, but regardless of whom he is channeling, it brings you to a sunny time where music was a sweetness that could carry you away, as those amber retro organ sounds melt the years of cynicism away. This is one of the most impressive debut albums I have heard in a long time. This is such a well-crafted pop devotional that each song is strong and takes you somewhere deep, and at no point does it become laborious.
The album was produced and co-written with Midlake bassist Paul Alexander, for their shared label Bella Union, which has always had an ear for bands with rich textures and a bit of transcendent pop feel. The elaborate textures of Grant's melodies are given the love and care they deserve, and all his heartbreak is here on the album for you to share, as is the hauntingly beautiful world he has seen through his own eyes.
The album starts off wonderfully, with the intense song "TC and the Honeybear". It is so epic I always find myself singing along with his rich sultry voice and I feel my heart drop a little at the end of the song. That is the kind of emotive power that makes me want to listen to it over and over. "Marz" might actually be my favorite song, filled with innocence hope and delight, because as you close your eyes you will be transported to an old fashion soda shop heaven filled with ice-cream sodas and goodies galore.
Like so many Twist and Shout customers I love film and pop culture references, and for those of you who share my love the track "Sigourney Weaver" is right up your alley, some of the lines were so great it made me laugh out loud. It shows all of John’s insecurities as well as his strengths, plus it has some rocking distorted electric guitar. This whole album ranges across a spectrum of genres, from a rag time roll to some ELP-like synth, it absorbs you. There are some strong lyrics that just make me grin because clearly he doesn’t give a “fuck” about being censored. At times the album is like Scissor Sisters without all the glam and a really pissed off Elton John that would make Stevie Wonder proud. As a bit of a gay pop icon in the late 90's Grant dealt with his own struggles going against the mainstream tide. As I was listening to the track "Jesus Hates Faggots", I couldn't help but think of the intolerance Mississippi teen Constance faced while trying to attend prom with her girlfriend. John wrote "Jesus Hates Faggots" in a direct rebuttal to the absurdity of using religion to justify bigotry. Thank you John for being so brave with your words, I hope it gives us a little something to think about.
The Czars were so original and diverse, and one of my all time favorite Denver bands, and all the former members of the Czars continue to enrich our local music scene. But it was time for John to move on and make an album that was really all him. At no point during Queen of Denmark does the band take away from Grant's style, this is like a diamond that has been polished: it was beautiful before, but now it is stunning. We will have this album at Twist on Tuesday April 6th, so please come down and hear this little Colorado Music gem.