Release Date: May 15, 2007
Record label: Geffen
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Singer-Songwriter
Rufus Wainwright's fifth album is, he recently said, "going for the sound of cash registers". Once, such naked desire for commercial success and financial reward would have brought on a chorus of boos from the music media. But if anyone has earned the right to be heartily sick of life as a cult success, it's Rufus Wainwright. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is abundantly aware of how gifted he is: modesty and self-doubt are not foremost among the characteristics of a man who recently dared to recreate Judy Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, an event famed as "the greatest night in showbiz history".
Review Summary: Release The Stars, if not a step forward, is at worst a side-step en route on to a knockout album. Charismatic, endlessly talented and disarmingly self-aware, Rufus Wainwright is a star in any other era. As tempting as it would be to term his relative obscurity a “tragedy”- certainly, it would compliment his theatrical flair- one of Wainwright’s most remarkable features is the almost total freedom with which he’s been able to conduct a career on the fringes of the pop world.
Last summer, in a rave-reviewed show, Rufus Wainwright channeled Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, and now he’s writing an opera. His ambitions, it seems, are increasingly outsize, and on Release the Stars, his fifth studio album, it feels like a mere pop album can’t contain him. Alas, adorned with more strings, horns, choirs, and piccolo flute (!) than ever, his melodies — and what melodies they are — are drowned out by the bombast (see: the syrupy ”Nobody’s Off the Hook”).
If ever there was an artist that embodied both the urbane popular songsmithing of Cole Porter and the epic winged grandeur of Richard Wagner it is Rufus Wainwright. Having not so much perfected as succumbed to this yin-yang pull on his laboriously ambitious and intermittently inspired 2003 and 2004 albums Want One and Want Two, Wainwright once again delivers a baroque collection of songs on 2007's Release the Stars. Recorded at least partially in Berlin and London with Pet Shop Boys lead Neil Tennant, the album finds Wainwright casting himself as a kind of expatriate torch singer, a veritable Marlene Dietrich of emotion who, as he laments on "Going to a Town," is "so tired of America.
Ren and Stimpy would've had a field day with the CD booklet pictures of Rufus Wainwright in lederhosen; Judy Garland, by contrast, a fit over the arrangements on the piano man's fifth album. Overwrought in Berlin, Release the Stars continues dispensing cigarettes and chocolate milk – Wainwright's ever-ripe vexations – but opener "Do I Disappoint You" proves rhetorical immediately. Orchestral overkill grandstanding on the song's perceptive universality deserves a pie in the face.