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Homosexual (Powdered Sugar)

THE GLEEFUL, LUSTFUL, LIFE-FULL Darren Hayes we meet in the opening song of this album is open to experience and eager to fulfil it. “Let’s try being in love,” he says in thrilling falsetto to his paramour, over a glistening, Moroder-esque heavenly disco pulse. “I’m in love with the idea of being in love.”

Oh, he knows that there is a kind of irrational wish fulfilment any time we declare something like this, let alone doing so a little further along in life (“Teenage passion, middle-aged despair/All the pregnant thoughts linger in the air”) but, what the hell, as with the song’s unstoppable flow, it’s still better than not doing it, isn’t it? “Let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s.”

So engaged is Hayes with the pleasure of possibility he’s allowing himself that a connection is made immediately in the next track to that night some two decades earlier (“1990s no cell phones/If you wanted to meet someone you had to leave your home”) when he finally let free a tucked away, publicly unspoken, acceptance of who he was and who he wanted (“Boy you’re right in front of me/I can taste my destiny”).

This time over the pure Jam & Lewis Minneapolis dance sound of vamping synth-and-Roland 808 he remembers being hot, bothered and seriously up for it (“We can dance or we could fuck … Back to yours or my hotel”) while dancing to Madonna’s Ray Of Light. And again the word love is bandied about. Whatever that might have meant that night.

Freed! Honest! Happy! Well, actually …

This is where the Darren Hayes story and this startling, sparkling, often wonderful album (all of which he wrote, played and produced) take a turn, positioning this dancefloor memory, Do You Remember?, as something of a false dawn. Or at least, a waystation rather than a destination. It turned out he had some ways to go, some lessons to learn before he could be this man, someone who might yet overcome the “poison blood” of depression that runs through his family.

Lessons like, being open is not the same as being unburdened – of the damaging home and school life’s deep gouges of the soul; of guilt and shame. In the grimmer tone variation of a Jellybean Benitez jam that is Euphoric Equation, Hayes (sometimes clear, sometimes vocodered) sings of wanting to cheat the light and banish darkness, but hanging over always are memories like “I was a kid/I was petrified/I couldn’t look in my daddy’s eyes/I’d count them down/Every drink he took”.

Through the mid-‘80s roto-rhythm and contrasting but clearly unconvincing exclamations of Nocturnal Animal, Hayes describes himself variously as “the queen of flight or flight” who will “never draw first blood”, the “king of freeze or fawn” who can’t maintain relationships “unless there’s something that’s broke can’t be fixed”; and a man who wants someone to “take me by the hand and lead me to a land of foreign pleasure”, but maybe can’t go there because he doesn’t think he deserves it.

Lessons too like being successful is not the same as being in control – of your time, of your world, of yourself. “One time as a way to survive I decided to be king/But that crown dug into my skin and that gold turned out to be tin,” Hayes sings in Hey Matt, his voice deepened, his beats martial, his keyboards rising and falling like a raft bobbing in the waves.

The song stays in its low-ceilinged, Joy Division-dressed-as-Depeche Mode lane, with only occasional sonic flourishes that tease an exit route but ran into the wall of abandonment: “If you’re out they come and rescue me/If you’re out they come and see me/This is not how it’s supposed to be.”

And yes, lessons like being out is not the same as being free – in this case of others’ judgements and hangups, but even worse, his own. The still-resonant voices of the principal who slapped him and said “oh Darren Hayes you’re a little fairy aren’t you?”, and the schoolmate who wrote him a letter warning him that “if I catch you watching [Stephen] in class again you’ll get a broke nose”, and all the others they represent, bubble away on and under the surface in the slinky Michael Jackson nod, Music Video, and explain why elsewhere on the record he says it all “made me ashamed of who I am/So I killed that side/A part of me died”.

But therapy, love, therapy, daring, and, you know it, therapy, have brought Hayes past the worst of it all into a place where he can humorously and seriously take the word homosexual and fly it and flaunt it, and most of all be it (see the two-act title track where rolling cheap robotic beats let him growl and soar and claim all the territory we assign the word), but also examine the crucible of a long-term relationship and the questions of sustainability, desirability and maturity that arise.

That the album closes with the darkly burbling hymnal, Birth, which feels like a regression to the troughs is a bit of a misdirection, or our misapprehension maybe. But then so is the extended ‘90s mix of the late album peak, All You Pretty Things, which rolls through the dancefloor like it grew up there under the tutelage of Mother Donna Summer, and declares that “as long as we’ve got our memories love remains”.

This actually is euphoria as a salve, a defiant riposte to the 2016 murderer of so many at the Pulse nightclub – not coincidentally, a gay club in Orlando, Florida – naming names and declaring that we dance to remember them. It’s joyous, but it’s not an end.

Homosexual in fact finishes where it started, the incomplete journey bringing us closer to that opening declaration, that statement of intent, that plan or plea or dream: let’s try being in love.

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