Rufus Wainwright: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

Much as we don't go to Las Vegas looking for a quaint bed-and-breakfast, we don't go to Rufus Wainwright looking for John Denver. It is drama we seek and drama we get -- emotional spectacle of the highest order.

Rufus Wainwright

All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2010-04-20
UK Release Date: 2010-04-05

In G.W. Pabst's film Pandora's Box, Louise Brooks played the beautiful and doomed Lulu, and in the process, created an icon. Rufus Wainwright has titled his sixth studio album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu in homage to the character, and the listener does not require a deep delve into his bio to see why. Widely considered beautiful and doomed himself since his debut a dozen years ago, Wainwright knows the subject matter of the tragic heroine intimately.

The Canadian singer-songwriter has been exceedingly busy for the past few years. While pop stars becoming multi-hyphenates is nothing new, Wainwright's projects are a lot more ambitious than a guest spot on Gossip Girl or a fragrance launch. Instead of an eponymous line of clothing at Topshop, our Rufus decided to write an opera (in French, no less). He's mounting productions in Canada as well as the UK (while hinting feverishly that New York will not be far behind), and he is still working with American theatre director Robert Wilson on an adaptation of Wilson's Shakespeare's Sonette. Three of the tracks on All Days Are Nights, "When Most I Wink", "A Woman's Face", and "Shame", are the Bard's sonnets set to music, written for Wilson's Berlin production last year. The album also features Wainwright's rendition of his own aria from Prima Donna, "Les feux d'artifice t'appellent". All of this is in addition to his ongoing work on his recovery from drug addiction, which he discusses with candor as a major focal point of his life.

All Days Are Nights was written and recorded largely during the period that Wainwright's mother, singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, was dying of cancer. Released just months after her passing, the album has a somber and elegiac feel, punctuated with brief respites of humor. "So Sad With What I Have" takes up residence next to "Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now", a tastefully bitchy skewering of the critic who eviscerated the first staging of Prima Donna (which, I fully admit, gives me a perverse hope that if I slate an artist viciously enough, maybe he'll immortalize me in song). Despite being culled from different projects, far from feeling like a smorgasbord, the songs are undoubtedly all of a piece. The through line seems to be this sense of mourning the woman who imbued him with his "show-must-go-on" ethos in the first place.

Wainwright's last record, 2007's Release the Stars, was his most pop-oriented to date, as evidenced by his choice to use Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant as executive producer. And Wainwright has said that he wanted to make this piano-and-voice record as a sort of "sorbet between courses" before he delivers audiences "the next big assault". It is telling that he views his work in terms of his whole discography rather than stand-alone pieces. It is the mindset one would expect from someone who performs in a coat with a 17-foot train designed by Michael Jackson's costumer.

Of course, much as we don't go to Las Vegas looking for a quaint bed-and-breakfast, we don't go to Rufus Wainwright looking for John Denver. It is drama we seek and drama we get -- emotional spectacle of the highest order. Nowhere is this better typified than "The Dream", which has become the most anticipated "Will-he-pull-it-off?" moment in his live show. Five-and-a-half minutes of slowly building catharsis, the song puts Wainwright's vocal and musical prowess to the test. The drama, however, never devolves into melodrama, and one of Wainwright's singular gifts is how endearing he is in his egoism. In "Zebulon", he sings "My mother's in the hospital / My sister's at the opera / I'm in love, but let's not talk about it", always bringing the song back around to (you guessed it) himself. His narcissism is as much a part of his charm as his incredible voice, his piano, his lyrical skill, and that 17-foot train. And we wouldn't have him any other way. Still beautiful, hopefully a little less doomed, and always iconic.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.