Over the course of two astonishing albums, Perfume Genius, aka Seattle native Mike Hadreas, cemented his place as a singer-songwriter of rare frankness, creating songs that, while achingly emotional, offered empathy and hope, rather than any judgment or handwringing. Sparse, gorgeous and with Hadreas’ quavering vocals often only accompanied by piano, they were uncommonly beautiful tales of a life lived on the dark side – scarred, brutalised, yet ultimately, slowly but surely reclaimed.
“Too Bright”, however, is something else altogether. Less self-conscious, and less concerned with storytelling and easily-digested melodies, it is a brave, bold, unpredictably quixotic exploration of what Hadreas calls “an underlying rage that has slowly been growing since ten and has just begun to bubble up”. Recorded with Adrian Utley of Portishead and featuring John Parish on several tracks, it is a stunning about-face which brings to mind audacious career-shift albums like Kate Bush’s The Dreaming or Scott Walker’s Tilt, records which walk the tightrope between pure songwriting and overt experimentation.
The fragile yet defiant “I Decline” opens the album, draped in hushed, languorous beauty, but it is an outlier. The next line you hear after that however, on the following track (and first single) “Queen”, are the words “Don’t you know your queen?” boomed out over ominous keyboards. This is not so much a genuine question as a rhetorical one, as Hadreas deconstructs gay panic with relish, singing “no family is safe, when I sashay” before the chorus explodes into a gloriously cacophonous symphony of synths and vocals. It is both the most anthemic work Hadreas has done so far but also his most perverse, a gleeful kiss off to what he describes as “faces of blank fear when I walk by…if these fucking people want to give me some power – if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles – well, here she comes”.