I haven’t reviewed a single song before, but every once in a while I come across a piece of music so interesting that I feel like I just have to poke it with a stick to understand it better. GMF by American singer-songwriter John Grant, an alt. rock ode to chronic narcissism, has been stuck in my head a lot recently, partially in thanks to its sweet music and witty, cynical lyrics and partially because of BBC Radio 6Music playing a radio friendly version of it an awful lot. In consequence, I thought I would get out my notepad and try and figure out just what, for me personally, makes this song so enjoyable.
I believe great lyrics are an underrated virtue in popular music, so that’s probably the first appeal of GMF for me. In the first person, Grant describes what sounds like a narcissistic, pedantic know-it-all who is excruciatingly aware of his own insufferability. He is the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet, and boy does he know it. I’ll admit that I know little about John Grant the man so I don’t know whether he’s being autobiographical here or just playing a part. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s a bit of both, and it’s fucking hilarious: Grant’s turns of phrase at the end of every other line are genuine comedy, whether imagining his conception of life as a movie in which he is the underdog protagonist or laying down the principles about his own sexuality. I won’t spoil the exact details as comedy is as much about delivery as it is about content, but this song delivers on both sides.
Musically, GMF has a warm, lush feel that harks back to great 70’s pop acts like the Carpenters, but with a dash of psychedelia that, apart from a slightly arresting synth solo, remains subtle in the form of Grant’s spacey, echoing vocals (aided by Sinead O’Connor appearing on backing vocals) and whooshing background guitars. The chorus of the song, the real hook musically, is given a hint of spice with the way that Grant juxtaposes a soaring melody with the pedantic, long-winded meter of the lyrics: “so go ahead and love me, while it’s still a crime, but don’t forget, you could be laughing 65 percent more of the time,” creating something catchy and memorable, but ever so slightly off-kilter.
We enjoy music that we can relate to and I can imagine that everyone, at some point in their life, has had to deal with an insufferable egotist who, as far as they are concerned, has the Sun shining out of his or her arse. Yet I can’t help but feel that Grant is actually touching at a deeper truth here that, whether we openly admit it or not, the greatest egotist in all of our lives is actually the one looking at us in the mirror. We all hold necessary delusions about ourselves: we are smarter, kinder, better at our job, more rational and less open to suggestion from others than the average person and this belief keeps us sane and positive in a difficult life. Grant is taking this unspoken, and seldom even considered delusion and laying it right in front of us, warts and all, amongst a soaring melody and lush chord progression. In spite of all his cynicism, the protagonist of GMF’s rare candidness and self-awareness is reassuring and even heartwarming.
Certainly an artist whom I will be paying more attention to from now on.