A fixture of a celebrated pop act releasing new solo material after 10 years would be big news any day, but when the artist in question is Darren Hayes of the Australian powerhouse duo Savage Garden, it feels like something to really celebrate.
It doesn’t hurt that there is poetic justice in the fact that the open acknowledgment and embrace of his sexuality, which saw his nascent solo career scuttled at the hands of record execs, is now the basis for his hotly-anticipated comeback album.
Homosexual (★★★★☆) is not only a celebration of identity and freedom, it feels like Darren Hayes at his most free and unencumbered as an artist. It would be hard to believe that the two things were unrelated.
Hayes opens the album on a bright note with the thumping synths of lead single “Let’s Try Being In Love,” a song. His soaring falsetto reflects his stated purpose in the song: to “love the feminine” within himself. He gets more literal with the second single, “Do You Remember,” a straightforwardly lustful nostalgia trap of a song that frames desire for another body around some cheekily on-the-nose Gen-X reminiscing. “No cell phones/if you want to meet someone you had to leave your home,” Hayes sings.
With an upbeat pop sound and fun disco elements, the album’s production underscores the cathartic sense of nostalgia that Hayes indulges. With lyrics like, “It’s not a blessing and not a curse,” the peppy “Homosexual: Act One” and its coda “Homosexual: Act Two” sound almost like relics of the recent past when bouncy viral songs emphasizing the basic humanity of gay people proliferated. The lyrics are full of self-indulgent corniness, but somehow, in Hayes’ hands, it works. The grinning flippancy with which he tosses out lines like, “It’s not correctable/It’s homosexual!” is absolutely infectious.
Hayes avoids the prudish reluctance around sex and the sanitized view of the gay experience that marked so much of the straight-facing material he nods toward in the two title tracks. Notwithstanding his 17-year marriage to the man who was the muse for “Let’s Try Being In Love,” Hayes is no stranger to gay sadness, and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Hey Matt.”
Hayes drops his voice and indulges in over nine minutes of tortured angst, replete with self-aware reflections on the damage that can be done by repressing desire. The sentiment is driven home in the standout line, “My daddy issues still ache.”
The runtime of “Hey Matt” sets it apart as a bit of an outlier, but not by much. “All You Pretty Things” and “Birth” clear the 8- and 7-minute mark, and are incidentally two of the strongest tracks in an album that has few lackluster moments.
Those runtimes, an oddity for pop in the streaming era, allow the tracks to unfold in a way that does not feel rushed, but Hayes manages to keep them interesting throughout and only rarely does it feel like they drag out.
He is a seasoned pop artist, after all, and is at the top of his game on Homosexual, stretching the register of his voice between his bright, well-known falsetto and the low, maudlin register he adopts on “Hey Matt” and again on the latter half of the album.
Captivating as it is, the upbeat tone Hayes strikes on the album does not prevent him from exploring some dark places, taking a scalpel to the origins and nature of trauma on “Nocturnal Animal” and indulging in some visceral imagery over some tense industrial pop riffs of the album’s closer, “Birth.”
His dedication of disco-inflected “All You Pretty Things” to the victims of the Pulse massacre is a sobering reminder that the issues of the past are still the issues of the present — the fight for rights is far from over, and winning them is not a foregone conclusion.
The practice of quietly closeting artists will probably remain too prevalent in the music industry and in entertainment writ large for a while. But the proud, endearing gayness of Homosexual feels like a refreshing middle finger to a self-congratulatory entertainment industry complex that still has a lot more catching up to do than it lets on.
Hayes is well aware he is far from the first artist to reclaim a word used as a slut against him, but in his capable hands, the album succeeds beautifully as a full-throated celebration of what it means to him to be a raging homosexual.
Homosexual is available in both physical and digital formats. Visit www.darrenhayes.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!