Music Reviews
Put Your Back N 2 It

Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It

(Matador) Rating - 8/10

When did we reach a point where being impressed by a work of art meant overly complicating a song with all sorts of twists and turns? Even in the realm of top 40 radio, every little hook and melody designed by some top of the line DJ feels agitated and stirred up, riddled with an adrenaline rush of digital sound bytes. There’s no room for the bashful, Diane Warren type anymore – a songwriter’s entire personality has to be edgy, fast-paced and to the point; plus, it doesn’t hurt if you paint your hair blue for kicks to capture the attention of even the smallest child, who’s oblivious to your every perverted innuendo and thinks you’re just wacky.

It’d still be imprecise to categorize Perfume Genius, the alias of Seattle native Mike Hadreas, under the same umbrella as that of a sensitive balladeer backed up by an army of songwriters behind the veil.  While performers like Dion, Houston and McKnight were professionals at expressing bare emotions in the most lavish manner, someone like Hadreas does it in the simplest, most direct and immediate way. But there’s a quaint semblance of normality in the way he transfuses classical, orthodox maturity with a gentle touch of experimentation – if it weren’t for its languid, Cyclops-resembling foot stomps and strokes of rusted strings, a song like 17 could pass off as a perfectly agreeable stadium filler.

Alas, Hadreas lacks the vocal range to belt out all the high notes – his quavered, soft spoken voice begins to dodder if he raises it too high.  It’s a shortcoming he accepts and uses to his own advantage, which means there’s hardly any sharp contrasts in these mostly piano-driven elegies. At times, the results are simply breathtaking – No Tear is kept down to an ordinary plane as he quietly aches -- I will carry on with grace/ see no tears, on my face – coolly uttered in different patterns of beige. And in the tear-inducing bolero Normal Song, he’s courageous enough to offer comfort even when he accepts he needs it as well; the words are enunciated with a frail, cracking whisper, and yet they genuinely resonate with the elixir of optimism.

Most of Put Your Back N 2 It drifts steadily downward except those moments where he suddenly feels alive again, trying to overcome his continual status of despondency - in barely four sentences, Hadreas raises his voice his loudest in anthematic spirit – the love you feel/is strong – while a recurring piano sonority comes together with a thumping, hollow drum; reportedly dedicated to his mother, he offers her a helping hand, manifestly renouncing the thought of defeat. Hadreas draws an eerily romantic glow that, even at his most poetic, chooses to shade some ambiguity – in Hood, he expresses a very intense bout of insecurity - you would never call me baby, if you knew me truly - but the question in one's mind is what’s really at stake – taken from his point of view, we feels compelled to empathize with his deep-seated pain, but the fact that we never know if he’s the one whose wronged makes it all the more potent.

Hood is masterly in every respect, the long awaited climax that has Hadreas freed from all restraint and elegantly accentuating large-scale feelings while the piano melody trickles and lays bare a dense orchestral wash. This particular moment only happens once and makes a sudden impact, leaving a long lasting impression. But Hadreas makes sure to up the ante only when necessary. Put Your Back N 2 It is essentially a conversation between a man and his piano, and letting us intrude into his deeply personal thoughts is his cunning way of seeking validation. It’s curious how much of the content in here could bring back what is fast becoming an increasingly extinct way of emoting – the fact that it feels this intimate should be something to be thankful for.