Album Review: Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game [Decca/Polydor, 2012]

Singers with distinctive voices: Bob Dylan, Colin Meloy, Aretha Franklin, John McCrea – Rufus Wainwright. In my mind, it’s true of Wainwright more than any other artist, that I could recognize his voice anytime, anywhere. I’ve tried, many times, to pinpoint exactly the adjective to describe Wainwright’s voice. Nasal? No. Plaintive? Not exactly. Sweet? Doesn’t quite get at the depth of it. The closest I can come is to say that Rufus Wainwright has a voice that produces ‘sweetly tortured music that makes your soul ache.’

Which is why I thought it was funny that Wainwright’s new Mark Ronson produced album “Out of the Game” was being hailed as a dance-pop record. It seemed incongruous. Having listened to it now though, I see it. Although most dance-pop albums don’t contain the lyrics “choking on my bitter tears/my bitter tears” this is dance-pop in the style of Rufus Wainwright. In other words, Rufus Wainwright doesn’t change for dance-pop, dance-pop changes for Rufus Wainwright. While the distinctive voice and the sweet melancholy remain in true Wainwright form, the backdrop for this work consists of upbeat drums, powerful bass and peppy horns as opposed to the minimalist keyboard or the slow orchestral march of his previous albums.

‘Jericho’, the second song on the album and probably my favorite, has Wainwright showing off his exquisite vocal range, reminiscing about a doomed past relationship, made majestic by the horn and string movement backing him. In between is the choral and trumpet heavy “Welcome to the Ball”, the poppy keyboard infused “Bitter Tears”, and the synth-driven “Song of You”, each a strong point in the album and each recounting its own masterfully woven saga (as with all of
Wainwright’s tracks). The album ends with the epic, seven minute long “Candles.” With any other artist I would say that closing your album with two minutes of bagpipes is self indulgent, but for Wainwright it works.

I don’t know that listening to this album would have me out of my chair and dancing, but I do know that by the end of it I have a silly smile on my face and, contradictory as it may be, the same sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing a good book, albeit a somber one. All in all not a bad state of being.

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Posted on by Celeste in Albums

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