On his debut album, Learning, Perfume Genius (real name Mike Hadreas) kicked things off with the ever cheery line ‘no one will answer your prayers’. Now, with his fifth: ‘half of my whole life is gone‘. He has a thing for dramatic starts. Compared with the bombast of No Shape‘s Otherside, Whole Life is a more languid affair, starting slowly and building gradually as it settles into its rhythm. It’s an atmospheric, beautiful start to procedures, one that is abruptly into cut by the heavy guitars of Describe, the album’s lead single, which sit heavy in contrast to Hadreas’ gentle, sweet voice. This marriage of opposites makes for an astounding track, a true tour de force unlike anything seen on Hadreas’ previous albums. It’s heady, intoxicating, and one of those songs that gets better every time you hear it. As it fades off into an instrumental for the second half of the song, you feel that Hadreas has run out of words to express himself, relying instead on hums which hang in the mix and stretch out towards the listener.
On this album, Hadreas incorporates more classical pop structures than on any of his previous albums, but he bends them to his will, dropping in and out of styles he feels will better punctuate his emotions. Without You feels vaguely doo-wopy, while Jason hangs over you like a blanket, soft and comforting (regardless of the fact that the lyrics aren’t). The album’s clear centerpiece however, lies in On The Floor, an epic, danceable tune that sounds like it’s been summoned forth from some raw, primal place of which Hadreas is just the mouthpiece. This is underlined further in the music video, which shows Hadreas performing a choreographed routine by himself before being joined by a doppelganger, then finally ending up alone all over again. That he can make this tortured beast of a song out of the idea of a ‘crush’ is testament to Hadreas’ creative prowess.
The album does unfortunately lose some pace with its 1-2 of Moonbend and Just A Touch which might have been served better by being separated, or, in the case of Moonbend, just a bit shorter. The album does however pick things up again with the somewhat Springsteen-esque Nothing At All, which finds Hadreas promising that he has everything his lover wants and needs, only to then twist it around and reveal that that is, in fact, nothing at all. It’s delicious. The album’s closer, Borrowed Light is, as Hadreas himself has said, maybe the saddest song he has ever put out – a rumination on the lack of direction in life, the possibility that there is nothing else out there after we die, but it is so beautiful, so perfectly created that it’s difficult to imagine a better song to end an album which started with those harsh words – ‘half of my whole life is gone’.