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Album Review: All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu by Rufus Wainwright
Very Good, Based on 11 Critics
Filter - 88 Based on rating 88%%
After a three-year absence, the man who Elton John called “the world’s best songwriter” is back. All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is Wainwright’s most personal album since Poses. He makes pain sound beautiful, whether he’s paying tribute to New York City, pleading to his sister on “Martha,” singing about a high school crush or lamenting his mother’s final days on “Zebulon.” Although he has been missed, his fans will agree that this album is well worth the wait.
Rufus Wainwright recently told the Observer that this record was his "mourning for his mother while she was still alive". As you'd expect from the writer of songs like Dinner At Eight and from a member of a family whose major form of communication seems to be via song, it's intensely personal – especially in the wake of Kate McGarrigle's death. The whole thing is played just on piano, giving the effect of Rufus sat playing in a hotel corner, pouring his heart out to inattentive guests as he sings of ringing his sister Martha to discuss heading back to Canada to visit their ailing mother.
Rufus Wainwright has dialed back the elaborate orchestration and campy tendencies on this sombre new disc, but even when stripped down to just piano and voice, he's still a flamboyant, larger-than-life performer. Written and recorded while his mother, Kate McGarrigle, was dying of cancer, it's a deeply personal album, and definitely not an easy listen. However, you don't pick up a Rufus Wainwright album if you don't have an appetite for intensity.
All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu finds singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright stripping back the operatic flourishes of his 2007 album Release the Stars to deliver a stark and deeply personal collection of songs. Where Stars often featured large backing ensemble arrangements, here Wainwright simply accompanies himself on piano, allowing the lyrics of these poetic, introspective songs and his voice to take the spotlight. Never one to shirk away from cerebral and conceptual artistic endeavors, Wainwright has adapted three Shakespeare sonnets here that work quite well as ruminative, classically impressionistic-style pieces.
Rufus Wainwright’s mother, folksinger Kate McGarrigle, died in January, and her four-year battle with cancer took its toll on her son’s dandy grandeur. Now he’s stripped down to just his? sadness and his Steinway keys on All Days Are Night: Songs For Lulu. These songs require patience: Right when you think they’ll get stronger, they lose momentum.
Until the unlikely day that Sufjan Stevens completes his 50th album Odes to Delaware, the crown of America’s most ambitious musician must surely belong on the head of Rufus Wainwright. You’ll have to excuse the opulent imagery, as nothing else seems to suit an artist whose recent creative output has reached levels of extravagance that would make Louis XIV feel slightly inadequate. Recreating Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 show at Carnegie Hall is one thing, but penning your own French libretto and transforming it into a debut opera written for 70 musicians? It’s an impressive CV by anyone’s standards.
Despite its title, Rufus Wainwright’s All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is perhaps the least gregarious concept album in the history of music, a fact made more amazing when one considers the wounded-voiced singer’s penchant for lush, heavy-handed art postures. Inspired in part by a handful of obscure Shakespearean works, the songs on All Days are unrelenting in their starkness and singularity, and yet remain typical Wainwright fare: both cabaret and melancholy, not to mention self-deprecating and ultimately gorgeous. Key moments, such as “When Most I Wink,” are smoky, prodding journeys that play to their creator’s strengths, alternately downtrodden and foreboding as Wainwright’s voice snakes around the ever-moving chord changes of a lone piano.
In G.W. Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks played the beautiful and doomed Lulu, and in the process, created an icon. Rufus Wainwright has titled his sixth studio album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu in homage to the character, and the listener does not require a deep delve into his bio to see why. Widely considered beautiful and doomed himself since his debut a dozen years ago, Wainwright knows the subject matter of the tragic heroine intimately.
Rufus Wainwright seems only fitfully interested in being a pop musician. That's certainly his prerogative, but it's not great for those who love the things he can do with a four-minute tune. Throughout his admirable yet frustrating career, Wainwright's assorted passions (for opera, for theatre, for Judy Garland) have led his music down paths that were often more intriguing in theory than execution.
You wish more artists would challenge themselves in a fashion like this. Ian Wade 2010 We should really cherish the likes of Rufus Wainwright. Sure, he may divide people, but while there’s hardly a lack of confessional singer/songwriters, few would apply their talents to writing an opera or painstakingly re-enact a full Judy Garland concert while also wanting a crack at being a pop star at the same time.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT All Days Are Night: Songs For Lulu (DECCA) Rating: This is more a philosophical question than anything else, but what’s the opposite of a work of art growing on you over time? Can we agree to use “shrinking”? If so, then Rufus Wainwright’s new album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, shrinks on you. It shrinks on you until you feel confident you could fit it comfortably in your wallet or even use it as a toothpick. It’s doubtful that if Wainwright were to read this review, it would hurt his feelings or affect him at all.