Rufus Wainwright

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Rufus Wainwright , 7/10
Poses , 6.5/10
Want One (2003), 6/10
Want Two (2004), 5/10
Release The Stars (2007) , 5.5/10
All Days Are Nights (2010) , 5/10
Out of the Game (2012) , 4/10
Prima Donna (2015), 5/10
Take All My Loves (2016), 4/10

At 23, the son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, a resident of Montreal (Canada), debuted with a self-titled album, Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks, 1998).
Its songs were marked by the singer's passion for the opera. This debut album was a literate, melodramatic musical extravaganza that mixes nineteenth-century Italian opera (Verdi, Bellini, Doninzetti), turn of the century British operetta (Sullivan), French cabaret, Broadway musical (Sondheim, Rodgers, Lloyd Webber), and then turns this improbable stew into "high art" via Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain.
Solemn ballads like Foolish Love are drenched in Billy Joel-ian piano, swinging show-tunes and romantic strings of the 1950s. However, they boast elliptical and ornate lyrics, sung in a soft phrasing that is reminiscent of Ron Sexsmith and Jeff Buckley. The operatic aria of Danny Boy borders on parody, with the piano strummed to echo Abba's Mama Mia. So does Imaginary Love, propelled by a drum-machine's mid-tempo pace. April Fools blends a Beatles-style marching rhythm, intricate vocal harmonies a` la Shirelles and Phil Spector-ian wall of sound (replete with harp and harpsichord). Listening to Beauty Mark, with its toy piano and crooked rhythm, or to the circus/fair music of Matinee Idol, (funny xylophone, waltzing drums, vaudeville piano, clownish clarinet) is like listening to a serious version of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Rufus Wainwright opens the lid of a garbage can, picks up the stinking contents and organizes them into a colorful bouquet.

Poses (Dreamworks, 2001) was another synthesis of twentieth-century pop and opera repertory. It boasted even thicker orchestration, expanding on the opulent arrangements of the debut album. Except for a nod to the charts (the breezy country-rock of California) and a wink at the discos (the funky-soul ballad Shadows), this collection was not all that different from the previous one. The retro skits Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk and Rebel Prince displayed the same wit and the same erudition. Grey Gardens was reminiscent of Todd Rundgren's vaudeville pop, and One Man Guy was a country lament with a spiritual-tinged choir. Sometimes the setting was even too austere, bordering on chamber music in the case of Poses for piano, strings and soft drumming. The stately arias of The Tower Of Learning and Greek Song were almost demeaned by their lightweight arrangements. Thus Evil Angel, the most bizarre creations, employs an orchestra, although it can't resist adding (creative) drums and female backup vocals.

Wainwright had already progressed from vaudeville to opera when he envisioned a double album to display his orchestral maturity and virtuosity. No surprise then that Want One (DreamWorks, 2003) felt like a Fellini movie of Tin Pan Alley's glory days, or a Greenaway's eccentric opulent movie about the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan. The stylistic range is intimidating, from pensive to aggressive, from neoclassical music (Oh What a World, that basically layers old-fashioned vocal harmonies and tuba rhythm over Ravel's orchestral Bolero) to operatic arias (Dinner at Eight) to pseudo rock'n'roll (Movies of Myself with a pseudo ska beat) to symphonic serenade (Natasha) to chamber lied (Vibrate); but what is truly stunning is the sonic impact of each arrangement coupled with the singer's sentimental attitude towards his own elaborate architectures. In many ways, the contrast, while gentler, is a close relative of Queen's pomp (Go or Go Ahead, 14th Street). On the other hand, the realistic storytelling and the nonchalant attitude evoke the Kinks, despite the orchestral ecstasy (I Don't Know What It Is). His sense of western polyphony is impeccable, worthy of much more ambitious endeavours than conventional (and, after a while, tedious) poppy tunes like these.

When Want Two (Geffen, 2004) came out, the impression was that the best material had been used for the first volume, and the second volume was basically made of the left-overs, keeping a decent song, Agnus Dei and a weird one, the lengthy Old Whore's Diet, to justify the two-album format.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Sonia Prosperini)

A 23 anni, il figlio di Loudon Wainwright III e Kate McGarrigle, residente a Montreal (Canada), ha debuttato con un album autointitolato, Rufus Wainwright (Dreamworks, 1998).

Le sue canzoni sono segnate dalla passione del cantante per l'opera. Questa è una colta, melodrammatica stravaganza musicale che mescola l'opera italiana del diciannovesimo secolo (Verdi, Bellini, Doninzetti), l’operetta inglese di inizio secolo (Sullivan), il cabaret francese, il musical di Broadway (Sondheim, Rodgers, Lloyd Webber), e poi trasforma questo improbabile stufato in "arte alta" passando per Taking Tiger Mountain di Brian Eno.
Ballate solenni come
Foolish Love sono inzuppate di pianoforte Billy Joel-iano, canzoni swing da musical di Broadway e archi romantici degli anni '50. Tuttavia, vantano testi ellittici ed elaborati, cantati in un fraseggio morbido che ricorda Ron Sexsmith e Jeff Buckley. L’aria operistica di Danny Boy sconfina nella parodia, con il piano strimpellato a far eco a  Mama Mia degli Abba. Lo stesso fa Imaginary Love, sospinta da un passo mid-tempo di batteria elettronica. April Fools fonde un  ritmo marciante nello stile dei Beatles, intricate armonie vocali alla Shirelles e un muro di suono Phil Spector-iano (zeppo di arpa e clavicembalo). Ascoltare Beauty Mark, con la sua pianola giocattolo e il ritmo irregolare, o la musica da circo di Matinee Idol, (xylofono buffo, batteria a tempo di valzer, piano vaudeville, clarinetto clownesco) è come ascoltare una  versione seria della Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Rufus Wainwright apre il coperchio di una pattumiera, raccoglie i contenuti puzzolenti e con questi confeziona un colorato bouquet.

Poses (Dreamworks, 2001) è un'altra sintesi di pop del ventesimo secolo e repertorio operistico. Vanta un'orchestrazione ancora più fitta, che espande gli opulenti arrangiamenti dell'album d'esordio. A parte un cenno alle classifiche (California) e una strizzatina d'occhi alle discoteche (Shadows), la raccolta non è troppo diversa dalla precedente. Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk e Rebel Prince mostrano lo stesso spirito e la stessa erudizione. A volte l'ambientazione è fin troppo austera e ricorda la musica da camera, occidentale (Poses, The Tower Of Learning) o diversa (Greek Song), privando le canzoni della loro vitalità.

Wainwright era già progredito dal vaudeville all'opera quando ha preso in considerazione un doppio album per mostrare la sua maturità orchestrale e il suo virtuosismo. Non sorprende quindi che Want One (DreamWorks, 2003) fa l'effetto di un film di Fellini sui giorni di gloria di Tin Pan Alley, o un  eccentrico e opulento film di Greenaway sulle operette di Gilbert & Sullivan. La gamma è drammatica, da pensosa ad aggressiva, da ouverture neoclassiche (Oh What a World, Dinner at Eight) al rock'n'roll (Movies of Myself), ma ciò che è davvero sbalorditivo è l'impatto sonoro di ciascun arrangiamento unito all’atteggiamento del cantante verso le proprie elaborate architetture. Sotto molti aspetti, il contrasto è un parente stretto della pompa alla maniera dei Queen o di Frank Zappa (Go or Go Ahead). L'importanza del raccontare una storia e il taglio realistico delle sue storie evocano i Kinks (14th Street, Vibrate, I Don't Know What It Is). Il suo senso della polifonia occidentale è impeccabile, degno di tentativi molto più ambiziosi che semplici canzoni.

Release The Stars (Geffen, 2007) boasted the lushiest orchestral arrangements to date. Alas, the cluttered production did not correspond to enlightened songwriting. While Leaving For Paris, Going To A Town and Do I Disappoint You will adorn his career retrospective a few years from now, Wainwright spends too much time looking at the past for someone with such an enormous musical talent. It is like a gifted scientist copying word by word the treaty of a medieval alchemist instead of working out a new theory of matter. The opulence of his music is a psychological monster, an accumulation of facts learned from the past. More like a paranoia than a passion. And, besides, exterior opulence is often a sign of inner poverty.

Rufus does Judy (2007) documents a performance in which Wainwright recreated Judy Garland's 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.

His French-language opera Prima Donna, about a day in the life of an aging soprano, premiered in 2008 and is documented on the double album Prima Donna (2015). It feels rather amateurish and old-fashioned.

Milwaukee at Last (2009) is a live album.

Wainwright was one of the most accomplished arrangers of his generation, but not exactly a great singer or lyricist. Therefore the chamber piano lieder of All Days Are Nights - Songs For Lulu (Decca, 2010) do not amount to much more than self-immolation (and perhaps glorification). The convoluted and emphatic tone of Who Are You New York? and the somber and resigned tone of Sad With What I Have pretty much frame the mood range. In between one finds the dreamy and hypnotic Sonnet 43 When Most I Wink and crescendoes that sound like like What Would I Ever Do With A Rose? bad versions of a Coldplay hit. The gentle Les Feux D'artifice T'appellent and the dramatic Zebulon hark back to other decades and perhaps ages. The marriage of pop music and classical music has rarely worked. Unless your name is Frank Zappa, you'd better stick to what you do best.

The over-arranged Out of the Game (2012) went nowhere, despite the hypnotic chant of Montauk and the sleepy elegy of Candles. The embarrassing pop-soul of Out of the Game is emblematic of the low quality of composition here.

Take All My Loves (2016) contains songs whose lyrics are Shakespeare sonnets.

Hadrian (2018) was his second opera, inspired by Marguerite Yourcenar's novel "Memoirs of Hadrian" (about the Roman emperor and his male lover).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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