As an adolescent and young adult growing into my sexuality, I didn’t always necessarily want to know that ‘it gets better’. Whether out of pessimism or realism (take your pick) I had enough awareness to realise that the world was sometimes going to be a dangerous, challenging, and uncomfortable environment for me. In the same vein as his debut, Perfume Genius’ sophomore effort carries this sentiment, but expands upon it in every sense. Whereas Learning was decidedly monochromatic – one man and his slightly off-key piano – Put Your Back N 2 It opts for a more colourful palette, simultaneously positioning itself within the realist end of the two poles.
Despite a maturity in musicianship, his subject matter places us in familiar territory: 17 is a self-confessed ‘gay suicide letter’, whereas Awol Marine paints a scene of addiction, inspired by rent boys forced to work in basement porn in order to survive. Mike Hadreas has always been an astute songwriter, able to communicate the most tender of emotions with a mere handful of words and his fragile warble. His sense of economy won’t surprise the familiar either; at just over 30 minutes, he doesn’t allow himself to descend into martyrdom and self-pity. In fact, Put Your Back N 2 It’s main concern is pointing towards hope out of destruction, self-inflicted or otherwise.
With the bittersweet Dark Parts he reaches out to his mother, a past victim of abuse: ‘I will take the dark parts of your heart into my heart’. Similarly, in the title track Hadreas implicitly conveys a love song to his boyfriend whilst attempting to reclaim the grace lost in gay sex. This newfound approach to the song writing process runs parallel to the way he embraces some surprising directions in style and instrumentation. Take Me Home, for example, illustrates the dual nature of dependence – healthy and unhealthy – while assuming the form of a church hymn by way of gospel backing vocals. Meanwhile All Waters’ wish for an equal-opportunities world is coloured by a dream-like synth backdrop – it’s a beautiful yet ultimately heart-breaking scene.
Where previously listeners may feel emotionally fatigued with his work after prolonged listens, Put Your Back N 2 It succeeds by appearing more welcoming without sacrificing on sentiment. More often than not these are (on the surface) songs for the gay man. However, Hadreas doesn’t allow them to stagnate; above all else, these are songs about love, life and loss. They become elevated by the way they tackle common issues and universal themes regardless of sexuality. For some people it might not get better, but what this record points out is that this isn’t necessarily the burden of the LGBT community, but a human burden shared.