Release Date: May 1, 2012
Record label: Polydor
Genre(s): Vocal, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Rufus Wainwright has always been an unabashed practitioner of "elitist" music, dabbling in Shakespearean sonnets and opera in recent years. With his seventh studio album, however, the acerbic singer/songwriter has leaned in the direction of - as he recently put it - "the common listener" by handing a large amount of creative control to pop producer Mark Ronson. That turned out to be a remarkably inspired move.
What to do after finishing your first opera and a 19-disc anthology of your life's work? If you're Rufus Wainwright, you make the L.A.-style Great American Pop Album your late mom, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, never felt like making in the 1970s. His formal mastery is so complete it's hilarious, like Albert Pujols playing stickball. But thanks in part to retro-modern producer Mark Ronson, it never feels too arch.
Few people twist the opposing aesthetics of lush and stark with the dexterity of Rufus Wainwright, the chanteuse with the steady aim on broken hearts and sumptuous agony. On Out of the Game, Wainwright does not disappoint: whirling string sections and a chorus of women exhale grief behind the brash songwriter who knows no shade of blue that eludes him. Even opening with the incandescent “Out of the Game,” a song about not seceding, but getting specific, the pang of yearning is present and accounted for.
The piano-pop virtuoso follows up 2010’s spare All Days Are Nights, released in the wake of his mother’s death, with a lush, soul-infused disc produced by retro specialist Mark Ronson. If Out of the Game sounds old-fashioned, Wainwright’s words feel like postcards from now. On the title track, he ponders modern celebrity over a Steely Dan-style shuffle, and he addresses his 1-year-old daughter with characteristic wit on the Long Island-set ”Montauk”: ”One day you will come to Montauk/And see your dad wearing a kimono.” Lucky girl.
Rufus Wainwright's 2012 studio effort, Out of the Game, is a '70s singer/songwriter album with some soft rock and disco and elements that bring to mind a mix of Boz Scaggs, ELO, and Todd Rundgren. Produced by Mark Ronson, the master of making retro new again, Out of the Game has a vintage, organic aesthetic featuring horns, old-school keyboards, strings, and the occasional fuzzed-out guitar. In that sense, it is a return to the more straightforward pop/rock style of Wainwright's early albums, although some of the opera and classical influences of 2007's Release the Stars are still evident.
Since word got out that Rufus Wainwright would be working with Mark Ronson and the Dap-Kings on his new album, there’s been virtually no need to speculate on the sound with Wainwright, himself, providing so many descriptors. Radio friendly! Commercial! Sexy! Danceable! These weren’t too surprising, considering both Ronson’s past work and Wainwright’s facility at shifting gears from theatrical pomp to barroom balladry to thoroughly modern pop. If Out of the Game fails to live up to Wainwright’s early appraisals, it’s only because he didn’t qualify them enough.
Wainwright defiantly says his seventh studio album is "very Rufus", as if to establish that bringing in Mark Ronson as producer hasn't impinged on his fundamental Rufusness. Quite so: Ronson's keynote retro-soul makes incursions, but Wainwright uses the vibrant horns and female backing crooners as servants to his own romanticism. The result is a Wainwright more open to pop simplicity than before – Barbara, for example, is undiluted 70s soft rock – but still captivated by the heft and drama of big arrangements.
If all his Shakespeare and opera was getting a little heady for you, Rufus Wainwright’s new release is just the thing. Out of the Game, a title presumably reflecting on the singer’s recent absence from the pop circuit that made his name, is packed full of light, artistic goodies, 12 tracks of primarily dreamy confections that alone would be a complete album from any other artist. But Wainwright is also a consummate songwriter, and ultimately all those tasty little pop nuggets serve as glittery packing peanuts for one of his best-ever compositions.
Though he's had a handful of releases since 2007, Rufus Wainwright hasn't made the last five years easy on his listeners. Between two live albums (one of which was a double-length tribute to Judy Garland), a startlingly immodest and premature career retrospective (a whopping 19-disc limited-edition box set called House of Rufus), and a collection of ponderous and meandering Shakespeare-influenced piano demos (2010's studio album All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu), the casual fan might be forgiven for wondering if Wainwright had any interest in expanding on his uniquely composed and orchestrated brand of pop. The answer is, well, sort of.
We've already had Wainwright's brazenly hit-seeking record – 2007's Release the Stars – so when he describes this as his "most pop album", he means something different: a smooth, easygoing collection, informed by 70s soul and MOR and given a sympathetic vintage gloss by Mark Ronson. Some will miss the high drama of his earlier recordings – compare "Montauk"'s philosophical and largely affectionate take on family dynamics with Want One's bruised "Dinner at Eight". But restraint is a relative term with Wainwright; "Rashida" builds to a big showtune coda and here, as elsewhere, the results are undeniably classy.
On a recent voyage into the depths of online procrastination I found myself watching some Damien Hirst interviews. The way he spoke about his art brought to mind Picasso’s famous conviction of how every child naturally springs and fizzes with creativity, yet it is only artists who remain sparkling and uncorked as adulthood dawns. It makes sense. Hirst joins Rufus Wainwright in that tiny sliver of the population for whom life revolves around the limitless exploration of their own imagination - days, months, years spent climbing ladders into the stars.
In terms of his artistic output, Rufus Wainwright has had a similar career to the director Baz Luhrmann. His work is big, glitzy and camp, witty and likable and the canon of Rufus and Baz follows a roughly similar arc. The debuts Rufus Wainwright and Strictly Ballroom laid the foundations for their future work while standing alone as great pieces of work.
Out of the Game begins with the banal title track whereby Wainwright decries any form of humility he might have once had. In a finger-wagging declaration, Wainwright places some pretty needless judgment on a younger generation of gay men who, according to him, seem to lack any sense of moral decency. All irony, of course, is lost on this continuously hailed “songwriting genius”, for lest we forget the “gay hell” he declared himself in the middle of during the time between Poses and Want One? It could be rationalized that with this title track Wainwright is indeed pointing the finger inwardly, but to those I simply say: have a listen to the rest of the album.
Early scuttlebutt about Rufus Wainwright's new album, Out of the Game, had fingers pointed in all directions. It would mark his first collaboration with producer Mark Ronson; it would be a return to form, à la 2001's Poses and 2007's Release the Stars, after segues into show tunes, standards and sparse piano arrangements; and it would be a dance record! Well, sort of, but not quite ? only one song ("Bitter Tears") qualifies as dance-like, unless jazz hands and choreography count. But, damn, it's good.
Rufus Wainwright’s seventh studio release is just as grand as his previous records, but with a considerable difference: “Out of the Game” is his first album in nearly a decade that suggests he stretched well beyond his comfort zone. It’s masterful. After 2010’s “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu,” a dark rumination on the loss of his mother, Kate McGarrigle, this new album marks a return to the pop chops and killer hooks that initially made Wainwright so celebrated.
Canadian songsmith’s Mark Ronson-produced seventh is a heavenly homage to 70s pop. Rob Hughes 2012 Never judge an album by its cover. On the outside at least, everything seems to suggest that this is the Rufus Wainwright we’ve come to know: the strutting peacock in his manor, a pink-jacketed hedonist with cane in hand, blithely inspecting his fingernails.
Following the sparse piano poetry of 2010's All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, Rufus Wainwright's latest reclaims the dramatic with at times bombastic pop arrangements. And yet, the portrait of Wainwright as he pushes 40 is necessarily different from the young, Byronian recklessness of his early work, even as it retains the same gasping romanticism. The opening title track sets the stage for mature reckoning, balancing nostalgic longing with experienced disdain: "Let me smell you for one last time, before you go out there and ruin all of the world, once mine.