Graham Reid | | 1 min read
As with Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, alt.country acts and Bjork, Rufus Wainwright is one of those artists who are only tangentially part of what we might call "rock culture".
As with the above, his albums get reviewed in rock magazines and newspaper columns -- but he also exists outside of the parameters: he famously recreated Judy Garland's legendary Carnegie Hall shows recently (wasn't good, reviewers who liked it obviously hadn't heard the original); speaks of his passion for opera in the same breath as Aretha Franklin; and word is that he has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write something.
On the evidence of this, his fifth album -- he certainly has the emotional and musical reach to do so.
Not bad for the son on acerbic folk-rocker Loudon Wainwright III and folkie Kate McGarrigle.
So this Wainwright is certainly "elsewhere" -- and it would take a lot of overlapping Venn diagrams to analyse this gloriously rich and layered album: Beatlesque/Pet Sounds pop cutting across arch mock-operatic balladry, fragments of Queen, dramatic orchestral arrangements, sad-eyed lyricism . . .
All this -- and the self-styled gay Messiah posing in lederhosen in the cover images.
"I'm tired of writing elegies to boredom," he sings in the gorgeous Sansouci, and you suspect that on this album he decided in advance to deliver his most consistent, coherent album -- I leave it over to you to decipher the multi-layered lyrical concerns -- and make it all sounds so natural and effortless.
And the clever fellow opens with the rhetorical Do I Disappoint You? and closes with the aching climax of the title track (a farewell to "Old Hollywood" however you choose to interpret that) which bookend an album profligate of genius. And great songs.
Whether Release the Stars is part of "rock culture" or not -- although it is definitely Elsewhere, and more European than American -- it is one of the best albums of the year, without doubt.