Defiance is exhausting. Living in opposition to a status quo that denies your humanity inherently validates it with hard-won energy. With the staggeringly fantastic new Perfume Genius album, No Shape, Mike Hadreas says "enough." On his last record, 2014's Too Bright, he responded to other people's perceptions of him as a gay, feminine-looking man with thrilling provocation ("Queen," "My Body"), and called for compassion: "I don't need your love / I don't need you to understand / I need you to listen," he sang in the last lines of the album.
But in "Slip Away," the outside world barely exists, save for one ominous allusion. "If we never see them coming, we never have to hide," he sings to his boyfriend of eight years, Alan Wyffels, amid clattering drums and ornate piano flurries that swoop like hysterical starlings at sundown or the darkly glamorous swish of a protective cloak. (Directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, the fantastical video depicts Hadreas and a female friend on the run from two wicked schoolboys and evokes the soft-hued queer romantic paintings of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Simeon Solomon.)
The mantra "love trumps hate" has become depressingly commonplace in the wake of the Pulse tragedy and the start of the new U.S. presidential administration, but nobody has teased out its transcendent queer potential as forcefully as Hadreas does here. "Don't hold back / I wanna break free," he insists to his lover in the opening lines — and immediately the gloves are off. "Let all them voices slip away-ay-ay-ay-ay," he commands, and a glitter grenade obliterates them along with the initial elegant synth refrain, clearing the path for Hadreas' cosmically expansive, baroque declaration of love. The bodies on Too Bright were ragged and diseased, but in "Slip Away," Hadreas depicts his partner as a godlike being whose existence sustains his spirit. Thanks in part to Blake Mills' opulent production, Hadreas transmits that feeling fully, and physically — I don't remember the last song that hit me so deep inside my chest. It's a pure adrenaline rush, and a total KO.
Hadreas tells NPR that "No Shape" is a love song and a protest song.
My favorite movie is Dogfight with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. The ending is kind of bittersweet, but so real and moving and complicated. I tried to see if I could make something similar. It's about a love that other people tell you is devious or not natural, being very pure and true — physical or otherwise.
When I was doing press for my last album, everybody kept asking me why I was writing about all this when gay people can get married and it's not illegal to suck d*** in Wyoming or wherever, but there are still a lot of really horrible things going on right now. So there's a joy to this song, but it's a protest, too.
No Shape comes out May 5 via Matador Records.
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