Mike Hadreas, aka Perfume Genius, introduced ‘Queen’ by saying that it addresses “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”. The artwork and accompanying publicity photos are similarly imposing, showing the 32-year-old looking stern in a sequinned vest and high heels. ”Don’t you know your queen/ Cracked, peeling, riddled with disease/ Don’t you know me?” Hadreas asks in its verse, confronting those fearful faces. On the chorus he threatens: ”No family is safe when I sashay”.
It’s a forceful reintroduction from the Seattle-based pianist, whose last release was 2012’s maudlin ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’, and the song’s hypnotic, lurching percussion is impressive and oddly reminiscent of Blur’s ‘Tender’. ‘Grid’ and ‘Longpig’ are two more instances where Hadreas, known for the wracked falsetto confessionals found on that last album and his 2010 debut ‘Learning’, edges closer to dancefloor bombast. The former boasts an exciting bass-throb that kicks; the latter is a fizzing synth-rush.
But the compelling, vulnerable voice familiar from his earlier work still lurks behind his new facade; occasionally, it even overrides it. ‘Fool’ is a case in point. Initially, it flaunts new vigour with disco synth and shoulder-slide funk that recalls Prince. Yet suddenly he drops the funk and the song melds into a funereal organ hum. It’s as if he’s at pains to remind us that he’s still a bundle of nerves and shyness. On ‘Don’t Let Them In’ he wraps his discontented warble (”I’m trapped in this body”) around sparse, slow piano. The bruised ‘No Good’ and the tearful ‘Too Bright’ too, are classic Perfume Genius heart-on-the-slab trembles, on which the affecting intimacy is reminiscent of Antony Hegarty.
‘Too Bright’ isn’t quite as tough as Hadreas made it seem. Rather, it’s a collection of enthralling confessionals where stabs of bleakness mean that heavy bleeding dominates.