Put Your Back N 2 It, the second album from Perfume Genius, alias of 33 year old Mike Hadreas, was by no means just haunting. Raw in form yet lyrically diverse, the album resonated a sense of personal, brutal pain. This manifested itself in themes of drug abuse, heartache, failed relationships, and isolation, which proved, if debut album Learning had not done so already, that Perfume Genius was a man whose voice cried out to be heard. Put Your Back N 2 It was undeniably good because of how honest and confessional it was in its narrative form.
In the two years since then, Mike Hadreas’ transformation has been a hint at the remarkable change that could well occur within his music. Images of him appearing with slick back hair, gold vests and Freddie Mercury-esque white trousers oozed a confidence that was previously void or at least unseen within the last two albums. It seemed, if anything, as if Mike Hadreas was ready to give the problems he faced from others, an aggressive retaliation. This was evident when he spoke to The Guardian about the single “Queen“, “I’ve always been very resentful of the fact that something I have no control over would make people uncomfortable. So with this song it was more of a ‘fuck you’ thing – I was hoping other people would feel uncomfortable for once, not me”.
Too Bright, Perfume Genius’ latest release begins almost from where Put Your Back N 2 It left off, with track “I Decline” echoing the solitary piano and harmonised vocals that the singer’s past releases utilized. It is the previously mentioned “Queen” however that shows Mike’s change in full view. The song, which is about the homophobic insults that the artist has been subjected to, conveys the exact message he could have hoped for, it certainly is a “f**k you”. The lyrics, “no family is safe, when I sashay” addresses the sad state America is in, in terms of not being able to walk down the street without being judged.
Musically, “Queen” is on a different level to the chamber pop and stripped down songs that Perfume Genius is regarded for, most notably, the pulsating chords which follow the initial lyrics is undeniably different, yet a clear and powerful beginning to the song. The build up and chorus to this song are absolutely huge, anthemic and dangerous. In fact everything about this track is formidable; its message, the richness of Hadreas’ vocals, the choir following along with his every word, uttering forceful “hoo’s” every now and again. “Queen” is exactly what it intended to be, thought provoking, bold and a statement that shouldn’t need to be said but unfortunately has to.
“My Body”, is a hypnotic crescendo of self destruction. On first listening, you might think it to be the soundtrack to what could be the end of the world. However it seems more apt to say that it is the song that seems to directly portray Hadreas’ building rage. It builds up, before finally releasing itself, made visible by a sharp intake of breath from verse to chorus. The song is a mere two minutes and fourteen seconds, yet it feels as if something grander has been witnessed. Effortlessly cool in its verse and manic in its chorus, the ending, a collective of shrieks is guaranteed to leave something of a chill down your spine. The seventh track on the album, “Grid” is surely to have the same effect, once again utilizing those haunting screams amidst a torrent of drums and synth.
The last three tracks on the album, “I’m A Mother“, “Too Bright” and “All Along“, I shall talk about as a collective. “I’m A Mother” has an ethereal quality, the song is soft and has Hadreas’ vocals set in a deep dream-like state. It is peaceful, calm, the complete binary opposite to “Grid”, “Queen” and “My Body” in fact. “Too Bright” again, is a peaceful affair, harking back to Hadreas’ first two albums; a solitary piano, backed by harmonies and an orchestra.
Finally, “All Along” which contains the chilling lyrics “I don’t need your love, I don’t need to love, I don’t need you to understand, I just need you to listen”. The reason, I’ve grouped these songs together is because of how perfect they are. How, despite Perfume Genius’ growing confidence, he is still able to wear his heart on his sleeve, still able to produce, beautiful spine tingling songs, that make you stop, listen and think.
When I heard Put Your Back N 2 It, two years ago, I couldn’t quite describe my feelings. Sad? yes, in awe? definitely. The same can be said of Too Bright, a clear example of a man able to grow into his music. I could not recommend this more. This is a record that you have to listen to. It is more an experience than anything. A personal, deep journey. Too Bright has been one of the best albums I have listened to in a long time. It’s message is clear, it’s personality and honesty strikingly bold. Too Bright is evidence of great song-writing and passion.
Purchase: Perfume Genius – Too Bright (iTunes)