With a title translating Ice Cube’s You Can Do It into Prince text-speak, there was an outside chance that Perfume Genius’ second album would find Seattle’s Mike Hadreas taking his muse to the club. But no, not yet.
Perfume Genius’ debut Learning was a compact set of piano-led songs, assembled at Hadreas’ mother’s house as he attempted to recover from years of destructive behaviour. The Perfume Genius back-story threatened to obscure Hadreas’ ability to write movingly about others’ lives as well as his own, but Put Your Back N 2 It, although drawn from a similar sound palette as its predecessor, makes his talent for universality more apparent. His sexuality informs explicitly gay songs like Awol Marine and All Waters, but the lyrics allow for open readings on the listener’s part.
Hadreas’ sparse piano is still to the fore, but the melodies are brighter, the recordings clearer. The distant murky synth echoes of Learning are also present, but no longer obscure Hadreas’ fragile vocals, and occasional unobtrusive drums and guitar now add depth to Perfume Genius’ musical vulnerability.
It’s worth noting that following YouTube’s decision not to run Matador’s video advert for Put Your Back N 2 It last month (the short sequence, drawn from the YouTube-hosted video to Hood was deemed “non family safe”), Michael Stipe came forward to condemn the site’s “dumbheaded discrimination”. There are moments on the album (Normal Song, Dark Parts) that begin to approach the common-ground appeal of Everybody Hurts, and it may turn out that Put Your Back N 2 It will build on Learning’s small international success and push Perfume Genius further towards the crossover position of, if not an REM, then a Bon Iver or an Antony and the Johnsons. This is still too intimate and low key an album to make that full stride just yet, but it’s another strong step of Hadreas’ artistic and personal growth.