Most Barnes-ologists would place the moment of his ultimate liberation at the release of the band's eighth album, 2007's bizarrely accessible Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? Not that the band hadn't been moving in accessible and revelatory directions, starting with 2004's darkly playful Satanic Panic in the Attic (try listening to that album and getting the twisted chorus to "Chrissy Kiss the Corpse" out of your head) and going on with 2005's The Sunlandic Twins, wherein you might surprise yourself by tapping your toes to songs with titles like "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)." But Hissing Fauna is where Barnes got personal — and unleashed Georgie Fruit. The album's success not only put a newfound spotlight on the band, it had pundits scratching their chins at this bizarre persona, who rears his pan-sexual head in the midst of Fauna magnum opus "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal."
"People somehow think that personas are not genuine," Barnes explains. "But I don't agree. I think that there's nothing you can do that isn't a part of you, there's nothing you can do that isn't genuine."
Perhaps it was all part of coming to grips with success after years of fighting perceived failure, or at least a lack of acceptance. "My first record, Cherry Peel, was a very personal, and it got slammed across the board by what little press it got. It was like being beat up on the first day of school. The next day, you think, 'Fuck it, I'm not talking to anybody, I'm gonna keep my head down and wear all black.' And my way to wear all black was to don a kaleidoscopic trenchcoat — because I think that there is always a part of me that needs to hide in an alternate reality."
Barnes's latest retreat into a world of his own creation, the lavish and majestic False Priest (Polyvinyl), shows indications of his fissure with '60s psychedelia, as the blatant new wave and funk of tracks like album opener "I Feel Ya Strutter" and "Godly Intersex" see him dip his toe in the pool of conventional hitmaking. But don't be fooled by those indicators — for every tease of "normality," there is a bizarre dunk in the weird tank like album closer/headscratcher "You Do Mutilate," a mutant that displays Barnes's recent infatuation with all things P-Funk.
"Yeah, I feel like we don't make it easy for people to like us. I think we're a very polarizing band in that way. A lot of people might have actually liked us if we had seemed less pretentious or less theatrical. Like, you know, if they were stuck on a desert island with the records, they had no references, no concept of what we were about, it might be easier to like them if it was just the songs. I think when some people see the whole thing, the presentation and the way we are — we aren't the kind of band that just anyone can love."
OF MONTREAL + JANELLE MONAE | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | September 16 at 7 pm | $25-$35 | 888.693.2583 or hob.com/boston