Thursday, May 17, 2007

Release the Stars by Rufus Wainwright

He said he wanted to make a record that made the sound of 'cash registers ringing'. And after 10 years of making orchestral high camp his turf, winning adulation from the elite minority, no one would deny Rufus Wainwright the right to chase the dollar. However, before even pushing play, it's quite clear that Rufus was either taking the piss in a big way, or has absolutely no idea what the vast majority of the unwashed masses want to listen to.

Having yourself photographed in personalised, monogrammed Leiderhosen posing in front of a fireplace is hardly the way to de-camp yourself after posing as Lady of Shallott on 2002's most excellent Want Two. And if you want to sell records, particularly in America, being gay, either overtly or covertly, is probably not the way to go. Then you hear the first track, 'Do I Disappoint You', and you realise that he's made no effort whatsoever to back away from his previous florid, layered, exquisitely dramatic and camp self, and we are all wealthier for it, because Release the Stars is a triumph.
Perhaps not quite the elegiac masterpiece that the Want twins were, this record actually emphasises Wainwright's 'more is more' approach, and the fact that it follows two utter gems probably harms it by comparison. But fear not, from the moment his voice kicks in (liquid gold emerging from a human's throat, if ever that has been) about 20 octaves up 3.12 into the opening track, and the brass section is unleashed, this record is exquisite in its majesty and grandiloquence.
One of Wainwright's strengths (other than that voice, and his impressive songwriting chops) has been his ability to do bombast and moderation with equal skill and panache. Stormers like 'Do I Disappoint You', 'Between My Legs' and album highlight 'Rules and Regulations' (horns and flutes have rarely been so judiciously unleashed) sit comfotably with downbeat ruminations such as 'Going to a Town' (where Rufus laments the rednecked homophobia of his homeland) and 'Not Ready to Love'.
Of course, no Wainwright release would be complete without a piece of high camp tory-baiting, a la 'Gay Messiah' from Want Two, and here we find it in the oh-so unsubtle 'Between My Legs', with it's gloriously cheecky climax, gleefully pilfering the hook from Andrew Lloyd-Webber's 'Phantom of the Opera', which is steeped in gay allegory that is open to interpretation. Just not much interpretation.
Closing on the title track, we realise that he's saying it in the same manner as Mr Burns and his hounds, setting celebrities loose on the world with a wry grin and a certain amount of satisfaction, all to a lounge music groove and an unspeakably sexy horn section (again). This is no departure from the old Rufus, this is Rufus in all his glory, replete in Leiderhosen and wonderment, revelling in the lofty heights his unparalleled talent can take him, and our lives are so much better for it.

4 1/2 stars

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