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.

April: Interplanetary Class Classics – The Moonlandingz

So, we come to April’s Album of the Month.  There aren’t many bands which start life as  songs on a concept album but that’s what we have here.  Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council released Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan in 2015 which slipped in an introduction to a fictional outfit called The Moonlandingz.  Fronted by Johnny Rocket (aka Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family), the story of the band’s rise and a fan’s obsession with the lead singer was narrated throughout by none other than Maxine Peake.  From there, the The Moonlandingz project gathered pace as Sean Lennon got on board to take care of production duties (this was post-Lennon witnessing a Fat White Family show at South by South-West in 2014, from which he bestowed the six piece with the accolade of their being one of the best live bands he’d ever seen).  Describing themselves as a semi-fictional outsider Ouija pop group, singles spawned: Sweet Saturn Mine which had already appeared on the Johnny Rocket album (promotional video starring the aforementioned Maxine Peake) and a precursor to the album collection at the back end of 2016 Black Hanz.

But it was to be the utterly gorgeous, swooping, majestic single, The Strangle of Anna, which piqued my interest.  I’m a sucker for wall of sound era ballideering and there’s something magnetic and beguiling about this most sumptuous of serenades that just drew me in and made me pick this album for this month.  I’m a fan of the criminally underrated Slow Club as well, and lead singer Rebecca Taylor contributes beautifully here.  Elsewhere, the album itself is a peculiar beast and it’s never what you expect although there is a glam rock, dark and dirty core which The Strangle of Anna aside, it doesn’t tend to veer particularly from.  There’s political commentary in the form of I.D.S. but I’ll be honest, the clever hook concerning forty-thousand years of Job Club could and should have been expanded on.  It feels like a smart idea not taken any further which, given the times we’re in at the moment, is guilty of being an open goal missed.

It’s a consistent record which doesn’t have many down points for me.  I love a bit of filth and up pops Randy Jones from the Village People to star in a twisted T-Rex tale which neatly summarises that pretty much every man from Stevie Wonder to the Sleaford Mods has a “Glory Hole”.  It’s a lipstick smeared, grubby tribute to the back passage and is basically a celebratory four minutes of nasty camp brilliance which you need a shower after enjoying that little bit too much.

A a footnote, not even an appearance at the end by categorically the worst singer I have ever witnessed in real life could tarnish my enjoyment of this album.  The warblings of Sean Lennon’s mum are unmistakable on This Cities Undone and she doesn’t manage to wreck proceedings (unlike the infamous live performance of Memphis Tennessee with Chuck Berry and husband John).  I would love to be one of the people who didn’t slate Yoko Ono but she was horrific at The Park at Glastonbury in 2014.  I thought I’d pop along to make my own mind up (because, y’know, there’s not much worse than an uninformed opinion) but she screamed and caterwauled through a 40 minute set, leaving with a mildly threatening “I love you…” as she wandered off at the end.  So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard she would be making a contribution here and at least they left it to its conclusion where she couldn’t do much damage to this relatively short but interesting collection.