Greetings, Glancers, and welcome to my first newly written 2020 Series post of 2023. I know I’m dragging this shit out like a child being torn from its parents, but I hope to finish off the 2020 series in the next couple of months. This will be album 16 of 24 (it was 25 but I removed Harry Styles for some reason). So there’s not many to go, and I’ll prioritize getting this finished before starting something else. Stop starting and start stopping, as they say. I’ll likely do some sort of Round Up ranking post at the end too, ranking the 24 albums by score and maybe some general comments.
Perfume Genius then. Is this a band? A singer? Male, female, or miscellaneous? Was it in the Metal category? Generic Pop? I can’t be arsed pulling up my original post at this juncture, which would surely give me the answer I so dearly do not crave. The artwork points me in no particular direction – a topless gent who looks like he’s spent the time down a mineshaft. Is that the singer? An object of the singer’s affection? A rando? The album title suggests pain, heartache, emotion. Which is just what I need after two Hip Hop albums devoid of those. I’m going in to this completely cold – I don’t know a thing about it and I’ve never heard the name of the artist or the album at the time of writing. By the time I begin the next paragraph, I will have intimate knowledge of both having listened to the album a number of times. Lets do this.
Most of those above questions were answered in the album’s rather lovely opener. Not only is it smooth, melodic, atmospheric, and the sort of subtle opener I generally enjoy in an album, it has a potent lyric, vibe, and voice which had me hooked and hopeful. It’s a powerful opening song, but the album only matches or succeeds this potential two or three more times throughout the album’s run time. There’s a searing frustration permeating my overall thoughts, because so many songs just miss the mark. It’s like watching your favourite football team or played having a solid game, but consistently missing the final product – a misplaced pass, hitting the post, crossing the ball and sticking out your neck only for the ball to graze your scalp and go sailing out of play with no consequence. There are so many positives and potential, but whether it’s personal taste on my part or something unspoken lacking, none of the songs perfectly hit the mark for me.
It’s frustrating because it’s clear there’s talent here, and it’s clear this could have been more impactful for me. Not that my personal feelings matter to the artist, but they matter to me for the purpose of my review. Even with my frustrations, it has been a more positive than negative experience and a few songs have been added to my near-mythical car-driving playlist. The vocals are good throughout, even if they do touch on the nasal at various points, but it’s refreshing to hear something unfiltered these days and great to hear some heart, melody, and emotion in a pop album, especially after my adventures in Hip Hop recently.
In terms of highlights, outside of the opener, Jason, Borrowed Light, Your Body Changes Everything, and On The Floor are the ones to return to. Elsewhere, you can feel the Cocteau Twins influence in the messy Describe and the dull Just A Touch, and Moonbend is a clear riff on Sia’s In Between. I can’t stand Cocteau Twins and In Between is a much more interesting and powerful song, with Moonbend at best a whimpering copycat. Even with that song, and others, which didn’t grab me, there’s usually some minor point of interest – Moonbend going all Rosemary’s Baby in the middle for example. Like quite a few songs on the album, there are potent component parts, but the whole is often much duller than those fleeting moments.
Production wise, it’s top notch, which has generally been the case all the way through the 2020 albums I’ve heard so far. There’s a bit of a seaside vibe throughout and there are many good choices promoting variance in instrumentation, whether it be the harpischord in Jason or the electric pianos and organs in Borrowed Light. It’s and approach which reminds me of The Beatles where they would write the structure of their song on piano or guitar, then head into the studio and say ‘what about if we replace this part with that instrument‘ or ‘what’s that thing over there, how can we stick it into this song to give it something different’?
A few of the slower, lower register songs and more mumbled and artistic efforts don’t do much for me, and bring the overall vibe and quality down for me, making the album plod in places. Leave is a prime example – as a piece of work it’s interesting and has a lot going on in its instrumentation and lyrics, but it’s a slog to listen to. Its pace and sloth is all the more striking given it comes just before the bouncing On The Floor, with its gorgeous melodies and fun synth guitars. Your Body Changes Everything is a dramatic highlight. I would have played the vocals plain, acting as a counterpoint to the synthetic potency of the instrumentation. I’d have tried to push a little more of the drama into the vocals, really bite into those lyrics and put some theatricality into it, accentuating the emotion.
After this mid-point, the album falls into a mire of stunted melancholy. Again, it’s interesting, but a drag to sit through so many songs which never get out of first gear or whose moments of brilliance are all too brief. These are not bad songs, but in the context of a full album play through they bleed into each other and the latter half feels like one mumbled, pained ballad after another. Which, by the end of the album, leaves me feeling somewhat worn out, frustrated, and bored. Going back to the opening paragraph, the overriding feeling I get from the album is frustration – the songs I enjoyed are significantly better than the ones I didn’t, and those songs I fully enjoyed didn’t have enough to get up to an A Grade score. As a whole, it’s a strong enough album that I won’t mind hearing again in its entirety, and those standout songs are solid enough that I’d be curious to see what else the dude has done.
Sales: 3. Didn’t set the world on fire (immediately), but seems to have done okay.
Chart: 3. Very middling, potentially a 2 depending on how you gauge these things, but it still charted Top 30 in US and UK.
Critical: 4. I struggle to give a 5 for such recent albums as critical thought can change even after a few years, but go on and give this a 5 if you want to. That’s because the album was very highly acclaimed, making many end of year charts and generally in the 90s%s in those aggregator sites.
Originality: 3. Personally, a low 3 for me. I didn’t find anything startlingly new here – it’s very much ‘just a pop album’ – but it doesn’t do much of what other pop albums these days do. It’s rich, it’s not over-produced, and it’s pure. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s a 2, but based on what I’ve heard recently, it gets a 3.
Influence: 2. I don’t see it influencing many people or musicians.
Musical Ability: 3. Fine, does the job.
Lyrics: 3. There’s a certain poetry there, and there’s a function to the lyrics in serving the vibe of each song. Nothing particularly fresh, no startling one-liners of new perspectives.
Melody: 3. A highish 3, but the best songs aren’t memorable enough for me and the monotonous songs don’t have enough.
Emotion: 4. Inward looking and exposing the artists fears and hopes, the album’s focus on and expression of emotion, is one of its plus points.
Lastibility: 3. We’ll see. The dude seems to pump out a lot of albums in a short space of time, and I don’t know enough about how this compares to those to say that this one, or any of them, will still be played ten years from now. Low 3 for me at the moment.
Vocals: 4. Smooth, expressive, good.
Coherence: 4. The ideas and the music hold together well.
Mood: 3. Drags in places, particularly in the second half, and not in a good way.
Production: 4. Solid.
Effort: 3. Fine.
Relationship: 2. In younger days this may have spoken to me more, but where I am currently I don’t think it gets to a 3.
Genre Relation: 3. This is a strange category – a crap album can get a high score because it sounds like everything else, but a great album can get a lower score because it stands apart. This is a decent, average album which sounds like many other pop albums.
Authenticity: 4. Dude seems to feel the words and the music, and put his whole being into the songs.
Personal: 3. Starting out I felt like the album was going to be a 4, but that second half drags things down. Repeated listens show that there are only a few highlights, but no stinkers.
Miscellaneous: 3. I’m happy for there to be a heartfelt male pop guy who doesn’t seem to be following the crowd and is happy to do his own thing.
I would have guessed this would get closer to the 70 mark, but this seems fair enough. Let us know your thoughts and scores in the comments!