Perfume Genius, Put Your Back N 2 It
Distilling the emotional heft of stadium balladeers into miniature
The piano ballad has endured as a staple of pop music for decades, and the spectacular success of Adele’s “Someone Like You” shows that it still remains a powerful medium to connect plaintive songwriters to tearful audiences. Mike Hadreas, working under his Perfume Genius stage name, offers a unique take on the form, centring his redemptive and soothing songcraft around it on his second album.
On his first, the piano style was rickety and naive, like Tom Waits at his most boozily sentimental. Here, it feels emboldened. Songs like “Hood,” “Take Me Home” and “No Tear” use a big-hearted waltz time, which give them a spine and resolve that’s uplifting without sacrificing his previous delicacy.
That said, two of the finest tracks actually don’t feature piano at all. “Floating Spit” is a classic power ballad, with “Take My Breath Away” synth-bass and a rousing Coldplay-esque chorus, but the production covers these confections in a mysterious sonic murk. “All Waters” is effectively a single verse, which shifts upwards via some almost ruthlessly beautiful modulations onto a cloudbank of glistening synths and wordless cooing. Its two minutes could feel like a sketch in other hands, but Hadreas makes it feel sating.
This is his real skill: distilling the galumphing emotional heft of stadium balladeers into miniature. In many ways he’s closely related to Ryan Tedder and his fellow lighters-aloft songwriters, and it would be interesting to see Hadreas write for Top 40 artists. But perhaps some of his personality would be lost. These songs, rarely over three minutes long, are like passport photos of loved ones kept in a wallet – small but powerful moments of comfort, and a valuable alternative to the giant canvases of pop.