MAY: No Shape by PERFUME GENIUS

Firstly, the hugest of apologies for the lateness of this month. It’s been a bit of month, so please forgive me.

So, onto PERFUME GENIUS. I had half-remembered that his previous album, Too Bright, had featured as an AOTM on these pages, but looking back through, perhaps that didn’t happen. Certainly, for a few of us, that album was a first real introduction to him (Joey, I know you’ve loved him for ages). And perhaps for some of us, he’s still a mystery.

If Too Bright was a progression from his interesting but sometimes noodly earlier work, No Shape is a giant leap forward into a whole new cosmos, a world of widescreen emotion, of huge songs, aching torch songs and whopping choruses. It is, whisper it, a pop album. And I say that with the hugest respect. Making interesting arthouse pop is one thing – constructing a whole album of cracking songs with amazing hooks and heartstring-tugging sequences is something else. Yes, I love this album. Yes, I REALLY love this album.

It’s not often I play an album 10 times in a row over a course of 3 days. It’s not often that I know straight away that I will playing this album for years to come. It’s not often that I rewind a few of the songs and play them again and again. I can’t think of the last album that had five songs in a row that were all so good, I was almost overwhelmed (Track 2: Slip Away to Track 6: Wreath).

So what is in this crazy alchemy that works so well. It’s not a radical departure from Too Bright in many ways – that bold camp vision of leftfield, celebratory gay pop music is still intact; it’s just bolder, brighter, sunnier. But what has really changed for me is the songwriting. The hooks, the melodies, the whole production – it’s next level shit.

I’ve been at a rather hippyish wedding of an old uni friend in Somerset. She suggested we all bring guitars and instruments down for a sing-song, which we duly did. Alex (Batesmith) brought a book of pop tunes, that had many a 90s classic in there. The biggest hit, singalong wise, of the rather bleary late night, was, surprisingly enough, Erasure’s A Little Respect. The next day, driving back on the long drive up to Leeds in sheet rain, we stuck on the Erasure song, and we were stunned by how good it was. We ended up listening to nearly the whole of their greatest hits. Fuck me, they knew how to write a pop song. If people rightly laud the Pet Shop Boys, why aren’t Erasure mentioned in the same breath? I wonder if they felt a bit too brash and less cool. But in songwriting terms, they wrote about 10 stone cold pop classics.

Why am I mentioning them? Well, there is something of their love of melody, of finding rich emotion in the camp candyfloss of pop tunes, that is right here in this album. Indeed, some of the chord changes are even reminiscent of ABBA. Again, I come to praise, not to bury. Of course, there is also some darker elements, some more oddbeat, slow burn peculiar songs of weird intensity, like Choir and quite a bit of the album’s second half. But I defy anyone not to play Wreath or Just Like Love, and not just smile at the sheer, indefatigable joy of pop music, in all its garish glory.

Perfume by name, Genius by nature.

7 comments

  1. nolankane706

    Due to my ghost like status as of late, perhaps it’s only right that I kick this off. There is no denying how much of a fan of perfume Genius since brother Joey got me into his first album. If I remember right, I think Joey and I went to see him in what I can only explain as the broom cupboard at the Brunel Social Club with about 20 other people whilst brother David was in the other room watching a band that had at least 10 times the fans. David was adamant he watched the better gig and we thought we had won with Perfume Genius. The things is brother David wasn’t the only one that didn’t get him in the early days, and I get it… some of the lyrics were pretty grim and lonely. In fact I had one friend that offered to walk unless I changed the CD in my car (we were halfway to Manchester on the M62).

    They say that time changes a man, and it certainly has done so with Perfume Genius. His Last album was a giant leep in personal musical growth, and with this album I think he has arrived into the mainstream of hipster cool. This album needs a few listens, but it swiftly grows on you.

    There is no doubt about his ability of a song writer. I think if I have one complaint about this album is his writing ability; you see I think he superb at writing hooks, therefore with the handful of tracks that doesn’t have hooks within this album you feel a bit robbed.

    Over all this is a great album that’ll be getting lots of play over the summer months.

  2. whyohwhyohwhy

    I’ve had a few cracks at this. I’m still firmly in the “hmm” camp. There’s clearly talent there, but it’s do chameleon like that it feels a bit all over the shop.

    Watch this space. ..

  3. misterstory

    Hi. Quick comment as I am online and no family member is demanding anything of me. Yes, it’s me. I love me some Perfume Genius. I am essentially a morose (at best) individual who enjoys the pain and suffering in art. I have always loved music as therapy. I found Mr Genius (as nobody is calling him) via Pitchfork Best New Tracks ‘Mr. Peterson’ a painfully sparse piano driven ballad about an illicit relationship with a teacher who later killed himself. Sounds like a dance-floor-filler eh DJ brothers? Anyway it floated my boat and is on my very long list of ‘songs that make me cry every time I hear them’. That bought me to album 1 which as David put quite rightly is ‘a bit noodle-y’. However, then he wrote and recorded ‘Put your back in 2 it’. I had it on pre-order and got it oddly pre-release. I loved it from the second I saw the cover. I dived in and found a collection of 3 minute songs so simple and beautiful you could feel them deeply on listen one and then more and more and more. There was a fair amount of press that accompanied this album and Michael talked about the topics of many of the songs … and … oh my god, knowing the stories behind the songs elevated this album to another level, and then some. It is firmly one of my top albums, like evs. For me (an important qualification) it is very very close to perfect.

    The follow up ‘So Bright’ I love, of course, but I do find that he found himself caught between 2 stalls … one one hand the ballads of ‘Put your back in 2 it’ and ‘something else, new’. Knowing the former as well as I do, the format of ‘one track like the old album/ one track of the new stuff’ jarred me out of fully connecting with the album.

    No shape seems to have taken a step further down the path that ‘So Bright’ started (and to be fair 2 or 3 tracks on Put your Back … hinted at). I have not spent enough time to say much more at this stage and I want to do this album justice as I love the creations of Mr. Hadras.

  4. misterstory

    Can we start a new thread about Erasure please? David – I am sure we’ve had drunken conversation(s) about the brilliance of Erasure. I’ve always found them a far more exiting prospect than the Pet Shop Boys (still genius BTW). For me, Erasure tracks always seemed like they were written on an acoustic guitar while PSBs tracks always felt keyboard written … I’ve always felt (rightly or wrongly) that guitar-written pop is more immediate than its keyboard driven cousin? I appreciate that I am drinking whisky and possibly writing badly but I love the immediacy and simplicity of the Erasure. Per. Fect. Pop.

  5. Paul Adderson

    I’d only previously heard of Perfume Genius due to the guest appearance on Christine and the Queens’ Jonathan and on the back of that, I was interested to hear what was going to be offered up. I’m not sure as to what I was expecting. Digs into PG’s videos promised a bit of sparkle, glitter and theatrics and so that ramped up my interest – being as I am someone who digs camp disco (Erasure being the prime example as to mentioned above). Just Like Love is a bit stripped-down Scissor Sisters but in a good way and is probably the track that I have been going back to the most.

    At its best, No Shape has hints of what I imagine a PG show is like – Choir is weaving orchestral magic with waves of rich texture and the mind’s eye sees a masked protagonist flitting ballerina-like across a stage of tidal dancers. But… something doesn’t stick for me. There’s not enough uptempo on this album to keep my interest and whilst I can see that he’s a precious tortured soul who has a knack for soundscape electronica phasing in and out, my attention wavers. Wreath is about as close as we get to a dance track and that just left me wanting for more. Perhaps a dig into Perfume Genius’ back catalogue to pick out what I’m looking for – I have a feeling I might be rewarded.

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