In the past, Perfume Genius’s album covers have featured variations on images that convey fear, secrecy, and the forbidden. On 2010’s Learning, Mike Hadreas could be seen looking away while a hand is reaching in from off-screen to cover his mouth. On 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, Hadreas is joined by what resembles a polo team, and once again, his face is obscured, this time by a bloodied piece of cloth that also covers the boy sitting next to him. The images matched the common theme of silence and shame found on those first two albums.
So when I first saw the boisterous, in your face presentation on the cover of 2014’s Too Bright, I knew I was in for a drastic change from the established, introspective piano therapy of the past. Hadreas can be seen sitting upright, wearing a shimmery shirt covered in gold sequence. His face is no longer covered, and his expression is not one of fear, rather one of defiant intensity. Below his knitted brow, any icy cold stare off into the distance is revealed. This is no longer a man hiding from his past; instead, he’s ready to take it head-on.
The music on Too Bright is just as unprecedented and over-the-top as the cover. In the past, Hadreas rarely delved into tinkering with production, allowing his soft voice and morose piano to tell his tales of abuse, sexual confusion, and molestation. With help from Portishead’s Adrian Utley and PJ Harvey contributor John Parish, Hadreas ventures beyond the confines of the confessional songwriter, experimenting with his music sonically. Seething basslines drone below the surface of many tracks, building the tension found in the cutting synth buzz saw. While past work has been about storytelling, Too Bright is more concerned with creating a mood of disturbed bravado.
Hadreas has changed his vocal approach as well. He’s said in interviews that the album is a result of a mounting anger, and it shows in his powerfully direct voice, assertive and in control. No longer is he whispering in a fog of reverb and uncertainty. Instead, he’s up front and center, shouting out his revelations with clarity. When listening to Too Bright I can’t help but associate Hadreas’s performance with Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren, a premier vocalist from the 90s who could jump into an emotive falsetto at the drop of a hat. Hadreas takes on Wedren’s same vocal prowess, letting his voice accentuate his metamorphosis.
Lyrically, the songs on Too Bright are more abstract and open-ended, yet there is a persistent focus on how homosexuality is viewed in society. “Fool” explores the exploitation of gay culture, and “Don’t Let Them In” looks back to the days of hiding his true self from a populous that won’t accept it. “Queen,” on the other hand, is a “take the power back” anthem for homosexuality, facing the looks of fear on the streets with blatant disregard and pride. In the chorus Hadreas pronounces, “No family is safe when I sashe.” Hadreas is no longer the singer/songwriter hiding his issues – he’s displaying them for all to see on an album that is both shocking and stunning at the same time.