One of my favourite records of 2005, and indeed of recent years period, is Sorry I Made You Cry by The Czars. It’s not an album which redefines music, though it redefines its songs – largely nostalgic, lovelorn ballads such as ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ and ‘I Fall To Pieces’ – by dint of the singer’s dark baritone.
When I was first shuffled into the listening booth to get a load of it, I knew nothing about the LP except what I heard through the headphones. I didn’t know that, though the name of The Czars was on the front cover, the band had in fact broken up the year before; I didn’t know that the sole remaining member, and the owner of that dark baritone, was a Michigan-born, tormented drug addict whose homosexuality had been aggressively rejected by his Christian family. In a sense, Sorry I Made You Cry is better without this biographical detail; Grant’s new record, his first as a solo artist, is a different beast.
Queen of Denmark is the result of the careful nurturing of Midlake, a band who saw Grant – almost dropped out of music and working in a New York hospital – at a small show and inviting him on tour with them. Over time, they convinced him to record another record, and their confidence in him is fully repaid by an album equal parts catchy and intelligent. Its 1970s touchstones – Abba, for one – are clear, and Grant’s taste for the morosely melodramatic remains; but Queen of Denmark is also something quite different: a self-aware, world-weary, and funny kind of autobiography: “I wanted to change the world,” he sings on the title track. “But I could not even change my underwear / And when the shit got really really out of hand / I had it all the way up to my hairline / Which keeps receding like my self-confidence.”
On ‘Sigourney Weaver’, he revisits his bullied and humiliated high school self: “And I feel just like Sigourney Weaver /
When she had to kill those aliens.” What’s so very fine about this record is the way in which it makes such non sequiturs sound not just sensible but moving and even, that over-used word, epic. There’s a depth and passion to the songs on this record – ‘Marz’, a song about a sweet shop, somehow metamorphoses into one about lost passions and intense nostalgia without proceeding through or towards cliche – which quite blies Grant’s off-hand lyrical bent.
Rather lovely. Queen of Denmark is out now on Bella Union.