Yesterday my husband brought me home a surprise gift of the new Rufus Wainwright cd. I am listening to it for the first time as I write this. I'm only into the first song, Do I Disappoint You? but so far so good. It's his first self-produced album, executively produced by Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame.
Rufus' signature is definitely all over this song. It starts out fairly simply with a plaintive vocal and fairly straightforward instrumentation and builds up to a finale in full orchestration mode. One thing I noticed was that he multi-tracked his voice which is something that I haven't heard on his albums before.
I'm on the 2nd track now, <i>Going To Town</i>, which on first listen strikes me as a black Valentine to America, a theme he has visited before. His perspective is interesting, as someone who was born here but raised in Canada. This is where his father lived for most of the time he was growing up and he spent his summers here. As a gay man whose past lifestyle hasn't exactly fit into the Will and Grace mold that I suspect the average American expects, he has reasons to be ambivalent about the US. Though he's sobered up, miraculously avoided HIV exposure, and has had a steady relationship for the past two years with a German theater producer, he remains the flamboyant dandy that is never likely to blend in in a crowd. Lastly, but not least significantly, he is an independent artist who, if not for the benevolence of David Geffin*, would be struggling to hang onto a career and a fan base in a business that has become less and less nurturing of its artists. This has certainly impacted what at least seems to be the dumbing down of our culture.
The cover art and liner notes, in what has become typical for his records, reflect both an over-the-top sense of drama, and a touching sense of domesticity. The back cover features a photo inset of him hanging out on the floor with his mom, knees drawn up fetchingly, gazing at her with pure affection. But of course he's wearing lederhosen embroidered with his initials. Underneath this photo is the dedication:
This album is dedicated to my mother who still whispers in my ear that I'M GREAT
Well, in writing this, I've failed to pay as much attention to the rest of the album. I'm terrible that way. The best way for me to really listen to music is while driving in my car. Certainly not the best listening environment in terms of sound quality but it is where I can really pay attention without any other distractions. Driving is enough of an automatic function for me at this point that it isn't a distraction in the way that listening at home can be. I have a difficult time simply sitting and listening with headphones. It is too much of just sitting still for me. Push play on the mini-player below to hear Nobody's Off The Hook, Track 4 of Release the Stars.
The Guardian recently published an insightful in-depth piece about Rufus.
Here is a screenshot and link to his recently overhauled official site.
*This is what I surmise, anyway.