September 6, 2007

Record Review: Rufus Wainwright

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I hesitate to give anything a glowing review because I generally don’t put much stock in them. Although, sitting here, next to a tissue box, not entirely because of my outrageous allergies, I think I will give it a go.
The world of Rufus Wainwright has always been one of glamorous passion and classic celebrity, and frequently maudlin melodies. On Release the Stars, Wainwright’s new release, the glamour and sparkle have, at last, been met with clear emotional resonance.
The first track, “Do I Disappoint You,” is startlingly honest. The opening line, which asks: “Do I disappoint you in just being human?” characterizes the album in its tacit acknowledgement of vulnerability and freedom from the fear of admission. By his own admission, this album is Wainwright’s call for a return of “the love.” His request is personal; it neither languishes in self-righteous criticism nor capitulates to depression. The album expresses dissatisfaction with the current state of things while reveling in the joy of what could be, of what lies beneath the surface.
I disdain nearly all “what’s wrong with America songs.” Which is why it is particularly surprising that I appreciated “Going to a Town.” Wainwright sings: “I’m gonna see some folks who have already been brought down. I’m so tired of America.” The song struck me, at first, because each phrase begins with “I.” How brilliant to accept a responsibility for the current state of one’s life and one’s country. “Going to a Town” professes the sadness of a loved one’s betrayal, but the faith of one who sees the worst but believes in the best.
Wainwright’s sincerity is not in question, even the muddy Want One and Want Two, displayed raw emotion; they were simply unfocused. On Release the Stars, that emotion is finally written clearly into music that is unfettered but unnecessary additions. Wainwright’s incredible vocals are the focus. The greatest evidence of this is “Leaving for Paris No. 2.” This song might easily have been one of Wainwright’s most maudlin efforts. However, the song is saved by an eerie cello and clear piano. Instead “Leaving for Paris” becomes a wistful ode to the lives and loves that might have been. “Nobody’s off the hook” is memorable because of the uninhibited beauty of the violins and simple lyrics. “Between My Legs,” the most upbeat and tongue-in-cheek track, still maintains a solid emotional grounding and does not get lost in the worthless pit of the controversial for controversy’s sake. Moreover, sexuality in this album is explored in a natural fashion that exchanges vulgarity for a joy of human interaction.
The instrumentation is stellar, an excellent melding of Wainwright’s conventional sound with the classical and operatic influences of Berlin where most of the album was produced. This album vividly portrays a man who has come home after a long journey that has been marked by self-doubt. Yet, in the end, he has found that there is, indeed, beauty in the mundane and sometimes, the vile. This sentiment is revealed in the magnificent title track, “Release the Stars.” It is a call to each person to reveal in themselves, a celebrity. This is celebrity in the grand tradition of Katharine Hepburn and, of course, Judy Garland; it is shining personality and vivacity that inspires and creates change in the world.