The opening (and title) track to Mr. Dynamite begins with a series of unearthly synth notes, as if Klaatu and Gort have returned for more in a sequel to the classic 1950s sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. The alien comparison is fitting on an album that is so far removed from John Grant’s previous recorded work that it feels like it is from another universe completely. Recorded in Cornwall during a free-spirited collaboration with electro band Wrangler, Mr. Dynamite takes all involved with Creep Show (including the listeners) to places they’ve never been before.
That deceptive opening track acts as a gateway into a peculiar yet clever album. With distorted and slowed-down vocals from Grant lying over a beat that starts simply before turning into almost proto-hip-hop, it feels like a deliberate sonic shock as he sings: “Pardon me if I gave you a fright, we’re gonna burn everything in this motherfucker town tonight”. John Grant has always experimented sonically, but this is something else. Scratchy and beat-heavy, what is at first jarring becomes hypnotic as the layers wash out of the speakers. From there, each track takes on a new life and a unique sound – some may seem topical lyrically, while others hide their charms within an oblique filter. It’s tempting to run much of today’s modern popular culture through a Trump filter, but some of the lyrics in ’Modern Parenting’ seem to refer to the current White House incumbent. “Did you ever stop and think, what you gonna do when your doggy jumps the fence and sets its eyes on you?” This Creep Show doggy has well and truly jumped the fence, with a sinister funky beat dropping all over it.
The mood shifts again with ‘Tokyo Metro’, a track which is like an 8-bit computer game soundtrack while what sounds like a Star Wars droid speaks in Japanese. Mr. Dynamite is endlessly creative, and that spirit of experimentation has unleashed a wonderful sense of musical freedom. Grant has described the recording process as, “A lot of laughing” and that shines through in the work. Wrangler, led by Cabaret Voltaire frontman Stephen Mallinder, are masters at building and inhabiting strange new worlds and each track feels like a different stop in a journey through the world of electro. ‘K Mart Johnny’ has whispered vocals cut up and distorted, slowly forming a story of revenge involving a yellow-spotted toy Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The danger with all this eccentricity is that the listener themselves must get attuned to it all. When collaborative artists talk about the amount of fun they had making something experimental, you can be forgiven a sense of nervousness approaching the material. Thankfully, amongst the weirdness there is enough earth-bound fun to make sure it is still listenable and not just admirable. The origins of hip-hop are again revisited on the breakbeat-heavy ‘Lime Ricky’, with beats ripped straight from the early pioneers of that genre. ‘Fall’ meanwhile is magnificent in its simplicity: a Kraftwerkian tour-de-force that seems to leave this world behind in its wake. Finally, ‘Safe And Sound’ continues that journey as Grant proclaims that he is: “Safe and sound in the arms of my destiny”.
Mr. Dynamite is undoubtedly not for everyone, and potentially may end up as nothing more than a curio in the career of both these artists. It’s certainly not one for the casual John Grant fan who will find themselves baffled at some of the tracks here. However, for those who like their electronic music a little more cerebral and a little more out-there, it is an exceptional journey through the minds of some very talented artists. Definitely worth a one-way trip, and who knows, you may yet find yourselves booking a return to this strange little world that Creep Show have created.