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album review: perfume genius, put your back n 2 it

It is often that we get albums that sing of love. This is one of those albums. Yet don’t let its title, Put Your Back N 2 It, fool you into thinking it is the latest by Ice Cube. Think more along the lines of Bon Iver or Sufjan Stevens (or even, on the track ‘Floating Spit’, Phil Collins) – and then stop. Perfume Genius (aka Michael Hadreas) is ‘one of those albums’ in that one of its themes is love, and yet it is not really the rest of them at all.

When Hadreas speaks of love, he seems to speak of everything that surrounds it without explicitly describing love itself – which only serves to give us a more powerful image of how he views that complex state of being. He tells of fear and hope, of weariness, loneliness and the willingness to please. He tells of desperation and feelings of inadequacy and of feeling for those who, by rights, do not deserve it. He croons, therefore, of a love that is not lovely – something that we can all relate to at one time or perhaps many others.

The twelve liltingly funereal melodies here are at times reminiscent of waltzes or sparse folk tunes of old. They are accompanied by a voice, like that of Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons, that was surely made for the heights of chamber pop. As with Hegarty’s too, Hadreas’ voice has a fragile – if less theatrical – quality to it. When his voice rises and falls it is clear that it is emotion, rather than any self-conscious desire to prove his musical ability, that drives his vocals.

The worst that can be said of this album is that its sweeps you up and then leaves you a mere thirty-two minutes and forty-five seconds later. It would however be hard to ask for more to be put into this half hour. Measuredly slow his vocals are, and simple the lyrics may be. Yet, there is a reason that ‘less is more’ has become a cliché and never is it more clear why than here.

Unfortunately however, there has been a dark cloud surrounding the album’s release. For an album that deals so heartbreakingly and beautifully with the topic of love (call it ‘homosexual love’ if you will, for Hadreas is openly gay – but then please explain what the distinction is), this dark cloud comes in a sadly – sickeningly – ironic form. Upon sending a promotional video for the album to YouTube, Hadreas was told that as the clip contained “non family safe material”, it was to be rejected. The ad features sections from the video clip for ‘Hood’, in which Hadreas and gay porn star Arpad Miklos are shown standing in a tableau embrace, wearing only their underwear. It would surely be considered raunchy only by those who have never come across a hip-hop video on MTV or an American Apparel sock ad. It seems painfully obvious that any similar video featuring a ‘hetero’ couple would have been approved without question. But it needs to be said. And said again and again, until we really grasp that homophobia is alive and kicking and coming at us from places we wouldn’t necessarily expect (YouTube: Broadcast Yourself! – but only if you’re “family safe”, whatever that means… defecating in a cup is fine btw).

Check out the video for ‘Hood’ and show your support. Not only is it thoughtfully made (unlike most hiphop videos and all American Apparel ads), but while watching it you get to listen to ‘Hood’, a near perfect song that tells of the terror that comes with feeling love – whoever you may be giving it to.

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