Rufus Wainwright Out of the Game(Decca/Polydor) Buy it from Insound
In terms of his artistic output, Rufus Wainwright has had a similar career to the director Baz Luhrmann. His work is big, glitzy and camp, witty and likable and the canon of Rufus and Baz follows a roughly similar arc. The debuts Rufus Wainwright and Strictly Ballroom laid the foundations for their future work while standing alone as great pieces of work. The sophomore efforts Romeo + Juliet and Poses are, for my money, their best two works, both incredibly over the top, then sweet and understated during the tender songs and scenes, and slightly critically underrated. Want One and Two and Moulin Rouge! were the two being given a little bit of freedom due to the success of their prior work and it pays off; a huge camp project so big in scope that it shouldn’t work, yet it does and gains a cult following. Rufus Does Judy at the Carnegie Hall and Australia were the two being given a little bit more freedom due to the success of their prior work and it does not pay off; both are a personal interest piece that a lot of the fans have next to no interest in. And following that the two go off the radar to an extent, Luhrmann makes a series of film shorts and signs on to make a new film version of the Great Gatsby while Rufus devotes a lot of time to writing his opera Prima Donna and releases a few standard record releases to bide the time between albums: a live recording, a collective box set, a less than accessible album that revolves around Shakespeare. Then Out of the Game is released. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of what the Great Gatsby will be like.
Now, if you told me Rufus Wainwright was set to write an album of mainstream pop songs, I’d have been delighted. Having spent a week working to the annoying sound of Radio One (I don’t know the American equivalent, imagine a series of bouncy youngish DJs led by a tubby homophobe playing whatever’s in the top 40 on repeat all day) I’ve learnt what the kids listen to these days. Repetitive dance music and surprisingly miserable songs about losing the love of your life. Having been touted as Rufus aiming for a more populist style, you might have expected a few songs with a dance beat, or more glorious pieces about not getting your life’s dreams, just like the unendingly beautiful Poses. A mainstream effort might have had a slight Skrillex influence. Dubstep Rufus Wainwright. How incredible does that sound?
Instead the mainstream pop that he’s gone for is writing a crappy MOR album that is inoffensive enough to play out at a hairdressers or in a book shop and you might notice the better moments and be able to completely ignore the (too frequent) dull moments. Certain tracks warrant the compliment of staying on my iPod rather than being deleted to free up space. Though I’ll admit right now that it’s unlikely I’ll ever listen to them again, they’re there because I liked them once. Montauk is fairly nice and probably the most memorable, though maybe that’s because there are too few songs about dads wearing kimonos. Barbara is enjoyable with its synth backing and relaxed harmonies. The rest fade into a mulch of mediocrity; not bad songs, just filler.
What really makes this album the disappointment that it is is not the songs that wallow in the background. It’s relistening to his earlier work that puts it into perspective. After a few listens to this record, the sun was shining and I took my dog for a walk and listened to his debut and Poses in full (it was a long walk; I’m a good dog owner). After falling in love all over again with that pair, I put Out of the Game back on. Juxtaposed, the gulf in quality between his earliest work and his newest is clear. Nothing on Out of the Game makes my heart swell up or my hair stand on end. Instead it makes me far more aware of what’s happening outside the world of my headphones, which may be better from a safety point of view but not from a musical one. I expect better next time, Mr Wainwright.31 July, 2012 - 08:43 — James McKenna