Brighton Centre ★★★★✩
THERE’S a famous description of two character types, variously attributed to the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus: ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’
When he began his solo career in 2010, former Czars member John Grant was surely a hedgehog: the one big thing he knew was pain. He made two superb albums of stately piano ballads and lacerating synth-pop based around it, depicting it in one memorable lyric as a ‘glacier’ that slowly shaped his entire internal landscape.
The pain came from being a gay man raised in stifling homophobic religiosity in the US; it came from heartbreak, depression, addiction, and an HIV-positive diagnosis. Somehow, in his 40s, he emerged from all this to fulfil his outstanding talent and become a star. It seems to have done him the world of good.
It has also altered his work. The following two albums, including this year’s Love Is Magic, have been sardonic affairs filled with jumpy electronic beats and observational lyrics. In truth, they are not as compelling as their predecessors. A tacit admission of it lay in the set-list of this often jaunty show: inevitably dwelling on the new album, and filled with audience favourites from the first two, it largely overlooked the third.
Those favourites were still magnificent. Yet as with children, one has to watch the artists one loves grow, change and move on. You can’t begrudge Grant the glee he takes in hating other, more deserving targets the way he once did himself — the object of lust and loathing that is Preppy Boy; the callous Smug C***. Grant’s art came from deep suffering. Now, like the fox, he knows many more things, and he’s having fun with them.