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Perfume Genius' 'Too Bright': Noisy, Provocative And A Little Angry


Perfume Genius is the stage name of Seattle-based singer Mike Hadreas. He's made his identity as a young, gay man a major subject of his work. His first two records are striking for their emotional frankness and so are his videos. In 2012, YouTube rejected a promotional clip that showed Hadreas embracing another man. The site said it was non-family-safe. This week, Hadreas releases his third album. It's called "Too Bright." And critic Will Hermes says he embraces yet another identity.


MIKE HADREAS: (Singing) Don't you know your Queen? Yet...

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: On his third album as Perfume Genius, the piano-playing avant-garde balladeer Mike Hadreas finally comes out - not as a gay man, but as a rock-and-roller in the classic sense of the term - noisy, sexually provocative and more than just a little bit angry.


HADREAS: (Singing) Case in the barracks for an ass to break and harness into the fold. Mary, no family is safe when I sashay.

HERMES: That song is titled "Queen," and the line, no family is safe when I sashay, is a fabulous and pretty hilarious rebuttal to anyone panicking that gay-themed art will somehow undermine heterosexual families.

Making this song even better are the sly musical references I hear to David Bowie's "Heroes," a song about embattled lovers, and to the Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Pop music history hums through this record. Listen to "My Body," which quotes Madonna while conjuring Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel."


HADREAS: (Singing) (Unintelligible) Like a prayer, I wear my body. I wear my body like a rotted peach.

HERMES: This cacophony is a positive development. Hadreas still likes to dress his words in scanty keyboard arrangements, even when they could use a little bit more clothing. But on this album's best songs, his collaborators help make the music as strong as the lyrics.

Hadreas is still challenging our notions of what constitutes a male pop star. Now he's singing about making dresses and being a mother amidst handclaps and swirls of synthpop. If Oscar Wilde had a 21st-century indie rock act, I think this is exactly what he'd be doing.


HADREAS: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

SIEGEL: The new album by Perfume Genius is "Too Bright." Our critic, Will Hermes, is author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.