Release Date: 09.23.03
Record label: Dreamworks
Life is Beautiful, As is Rufus
by: bill aicher
Given the fact that Rufus Wainwright feels he's come up with enough great material in his sessions folllowing 2001's Poses to warrant two full albums (the follow-up to Want, likely titled Want Two, is rumored to pop up in the near future), as well as Wainwright's penchant for overblown flamboyancy, one might worry as to if Want might border on bombast and pretentiousness. But strangely (and thankfully), upon actually listening to Want these fears can be quickly laid to rest. In fact, where past Wainwright releases relied on his flowery arrangements and gorgeous voice often overshadowing the songs themselves, Wainwright's latest release tends to downplay his propensity toward showtune pop production and focus much more heavily on his contemporary leanings.
Now whether this is a good or bad thing will lie quite a bit in what you've liked (or disliked) about Wainwright's past work. Songs like "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" from Poses and "April Fools" from his self-titled 1998 release portrayed Wainwright at his most flamboyant. His broadway-inspired flair was hardly hidden, and this embrace of said style garnered him quite a large following. Want, on the other hand, tends to avoid going overboard in this area - leaving Want to be a much more accessible album than anything he's done so far.
Still, the drunken Broadway sing-song delivery of the album's finest moment, the anthemic rock opera production of "14th Street" does find Wainwright incorporating his vices of the past, and heartily reminds us why Rufus Wainwright is one of the best songwriters of this age. With a chorus that goes "Why'd you have to break all my heart / couldn't you have saved a little bit of it?" and a light banjo line closing it all off, it's quite a testament to Wainwright's ability to put his everything into his music.
On the other hand, the simple piano ballad "Pretty Things" showcases Wainwright's lighter side. Featuring only his vocals and a piano line, his songwriting once again shines - but it's his absolutely gorgeous vocals that sparkle. Likewise, the classic jazz standard style of "Harvester of Hearts" demonstrates his influences from artists like Hoagy Carmichael and Burt Bachrach.
Yet Want does manage to falter, and is hardly Wainwright's swan song. The move to banish some of his flamboyancies has left Want finding a bit empty in spots. And "Vibrate," one of the album's more sonically interesting tracks feels a bit clumsy due to its constraints by modern cultural conventions. Bits about Britney Spears and electroclash sound clever at first listen, but tend to teeter on the gimmicky pop reference side on repeated listens.
Like most of Wainwright's work, Want is hit or miss - but when he hits its a spectacular hit... an absolutely beautiful hit. And given his mesmerizing voice, which has only gotten better from album to album, the misses remain quite beautiful as well. 22-Sep-2003 5:15 PM