John Grant, "Grey Tickles, Black Pressure" (Partisan)
Synthesizers throb and gurgle while violins rise and fall above drums both digital and real. There's brass and a bass and even a bass clarinet. But the most ear-catching instrument on any John Grant album: Grant's voice.
Blessed with an elegant baritone, effortless delivery and two-octave range, Grant could sing lame power ballads and make a handsome living. He's not into pretty, however, and while "Grey Tickles, Black Pressure" benefits from fetching melodies, the 12-song set is also filled with edgy arrangements and whimsical lyrics regarding a wide range of subjects. Grant addresses his HIV diagnosis (the title cut), his battle with addiction ("Magma Arrives"), and even Hitler and decoupage ("You and Him").
The singer and songs are so strong they would benefit from unplugging the synths in favor of a more organic approach. And the cover art is awful. But the album is engaging from start to finish — the closing cut is a child's recitation of 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. Maybe it will become a hit.