Perfume Genius’ attempt to develop a more ambitious sound on his second album brings mixed results, says Piers Barber.
Genius hates company: Mike Hadreas, not happy to see us
The composition of a second album always promised to pose difficulties for Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, a Seattle-born singer-songwriter whose first record Learning offered an intensely private, relentlessly intimate message seldom possible outside of a debut album.
For his second effort, Hadreas attempts to abandon such a personal approach to explore more universal issues. Thankfully, this wider scope hardly results in mundane subject matter. The title track, for example, is about gay sex, while ‘AWOL Marine’ tackles addiction and is inspired, in Hadreas’ own words, by “some unedited homemade basement porn I watched.”
The music retains its dark undertones, though the first album’s heavily distorted vocals and total reliance on a lone piano are replaced by more varied instrumentation, witnessed in ‘No Tears’, the first Perfume Genius track to include a drum kit and ‘All Waters’, which features a soaring guitar that leads the track to an emotive climax. The result is a more fully fleshed-out sound, although tracks like the sombre ‘Sister Song’ demonstrate that Hadreas’ ability to craft a powerful song with minimal backing remains potent.
But the record’s broader and less specific thematic approach can often prove restrictive. Learning’s enduring power derived from the artist’s ability to punctuate intensely personal songs with memorably specific details, and his more distant lyrical stance on this record occasionally makes the music feel slightly hollow. Some sentiments, such as the repeated “Do your weeping now” on ‘Dirge’, lack context and verge on the melodrama so successfully avoided by Hadreas’ debut.
The record’s more polished composition sometimes has a similar effect and the melodies here fail to linger in the mind as long as some of the haunting, piano-led tracks from his first effort.
Still, a transition from sparseness to a fuller-sounding effort was inevitable for Perfume Genius, and this record succeeds in mostly delivering songs replete with emotional power and intrigue. Here’s hoping that this artist does not run low on meaningful messages anytime soon.
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