Queen of Denmark takes me where I’ve never been before, to the Land of ’70s Oz, where a weather balloon floats over my neighborhood with Harry Nilsson, Stephen Bishop and The Captain and Tennille smiling and waving as John Grant’s record wafts through loudspeakers, redefining the times. Tender Loving Care defines this homegrown masterpiece recorded in Denton with the band Midlake, who know precisely what to do with John’s quirky (that’s good in my world) songs.
Where Dreams Go to Die is John Grant’s Yesterday; several songs in one, with the opening remarks projecting from the stage like a Shakespeare narrator setting the stage for what’s about to happen. Then it sweeps into the pop passion play with the gossamer chorus lines: “Baby you’re where dreams go to die/I regret the day your lovely carcass caught my eye.” This is Gothic out-of-sink irony against a tender, warmly delivered vocal. Layers of irony and grief on a pop base of sensibilities.
Let me just say, the instrumental middle section sounds like what George Martin use to do with a Lennon/McCartney song such as Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. Midlake knows their way around the studio; I could use an instrument breakdown for each song and a lyric sheet for John’s compositions. Such is the hazard of buying music on itunes.
Another favorite of mine is a mellow and satisfying It’s Easier; the vocal harmonies blend nicely with rambling electric piano. Careful touch of the drums by McKenzie Smith, good downplay, pops on the 2 and 4, just right. And is that a Theremin hanging in the wind? Probably a synthesizer voice, but sure sounds like a Theremin. Gentle ’70s flow of romance juggling, in search of the reality of broken relationships.
Caramel, with those arpeggio, cascading keys, once again haunts; voice is clear-throated ala Stephen Bishop – chording fluctuates between minor and major, and there’s those Theremin piping’s again. And there’s the familiar candy shop to love one analogy once again. Sprinkles of outer-space keys again odes of passion and layers of sound effects, then the final John Carpenter floating piano riff brings closure and goose bumps galore. I play it back again mining for missed associations of music and meaning. Did I miss the boat?
I won’t beat around the bush; the title track Queen of Denmark reminds me of two classics from the 1970s. First there’s Harry Nilsson’s If Living Is Without You, a Pete Ham composition from Badfinger, and then because of the way the piano part is structured, Queen reminds me of Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out, from John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges. But it’s still original; those are just references that make me appreciate it rather more so.
“Why don’t you take it out on somebody else?” The Drums accent a crescendo of the record; suddenly everyone enters the stage and takes a big bow. All the ’70s pipedream bubbles ride out on a Mardi Gras float, along with all the characters that populate John Grant’s imaginative world. Carnies from the candy shop, old lovers, washed up band mates, and there’s his saviors to ART, Midlake, who get the BIG PICTURE in John’s crowded brain and freeze his phantasm of fantasies with unearthly sounds.