i want it too

June 12, 2005

Rufus Wainwright’s marvellous new album (ok, not so new, but then again I’ve been in NS) Want Two begins with a scratchy sort-of-sound (almost a sound, but not quite?): like someone trying to coax a tune from a violin, or some other stringed instrument, but not succeeding. It begins in frailty, in dissonance, in near-silence. Wainwright interjects with a supplication, it appears that the first track on the album is a gently operatic Agnus Dei, a prayer for peace and repose (which reminds me slightly of Faure’s [with the accent aigu over the ‘e’ of course] Requiem). Full of delicate irony, yet disturbingly human in its cry, the track sets the tone for the entire album, which is quite a startling change from Want One. I don’t think that Two can be strictly considered a continuation of One: although of course it is evident that both have the Wainwright touch.

What impresses about Two, aside from the lovelily (is there such a word? a lovely word, like a love-lily. or something) contrived tunes, is Wainwright’s amazing perspicacity. This is what sets him apart from random other pop/rock/folk/etc singers-songwriters out there: his ability to come up with bits and pieces which are so perceptive and meaningful, bordering on poetic.

In the track The Art Teacher, for example, recorded live and with a raw edginess (one hears Wainwright gasping for breath, the flourishes of the piano), Wainwright imagines himself as a not-quite-grown-up frau dreaming of her first girly crush. Now married to an ‘executive company head’ and actually in possession of the artwork which her first crush, the art teacher, so adored, she, in her ‘uniformish pantsuit sort of thing’ cannot stop thinking of the art teacher, and will never ‘love any other man’. This is Wainwright at his best: comic and tragic, illuminating humanity in all its ennui. Wonderful.

Amongst the gems of the album is the marvelously funny Gay Messiah, an obvious ironic allusion to the previous Agnus Dei, but with a twist: this gay messiah ‘will be reborn/from 1970s porn/wearing tubesocks with style/and such an innocent smile’. Downright dirty and salaciously hilarious, this balladish track, with its soulful tunes and incongruously flippant rhymes, is memorably amusing and, according to Wainwright, has become some sort of a gay anthem already.

Memphis Skyline strikes me as the album’s most beautiful piece: here Wainwright sings of lost love (who doesn’t?), but the hallucinogenic quality of the Memphis sky and the lover in the ‘gaslight of the morning’ sets this apart from many other modern ballads. The simple strains of the piano give way to a delicate movement reminiscent of Saint-Saen’s Swan from The Carnival of the Animals, brilliantly setting off the morose quality of Wainwright’s voice.

Want Two is an intelligent, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable album. Wainwright is never afraid to transcend the boring verse-verse-chorus-verse-verse-chorus-type structure that is so pervasive in today’s pop/rock. Contrasting his very serious/unserious lyrics with unserious/serious tunes, never hesitating to interject with an operatic movement here, a sonata there, a little folk, a little country, he shows how music today can still be wonderfully inventive and exciting without abandoning tradition completely. Support Rufus: don’t download the album, buy it.


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