Music

Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game (take one)

Wainwright doesn't quite make good on all of his predictions for this collaboration with producer Mark Ronson. He does, however, make the best Rufus Wainwright album in years.


Rufus Wainwright

Out of the Game

US Release: 2012-05-01
Canada Release: 2012-04-24
Label: Decca
UK Release: 2012-04-23
Artist website
Website
Amazon
iTunes

Since word got out that Rufus Wainwright would be working with Mark Ronson and the Dap-Kings on his new album, there's been virtually no need to speculate on the sound with Wainwright, himself, providing so many descriptors. Radio friendly! Commercial! Sexy! Danceable! These weren't too surprising, considering both Ronson's past work and Wainwright's facility at shifting gears from theatrical pomp to barroom balladry to thoroughly modern pop.

If Out of the Game fails to live up to Wainwright's early appraisals, it's only because he didn't qualify them enough. There are, indeed, some songs here that would sound amazing on the radio if '70s hits stations were to accept new submissions. It is arguably commercial, but only in light of Wainwright's most recent major musical projects, the dark, understated All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu and the opera Prima Donna. It's occasionally sexy in a way that adults in loving relationships may recognize, which is to say probably distinctly un-sexy by contemporary pop music standards. As for danceable, remember that this is the guy who once sang, "I tried to dance Britney Spears / I guess I'm getting on in years", so your mileage may vary. One could probably manage a respectable waltz for "Respectable Dive", there's a slight techno pulse to "Bitter Tears", and there's a little more roll in his baroque'n'roll, overall, but it's hard to imagine any of this going over in a club in 2012.

There's nothing wrong with Rufus just being Rufus, though. Wainwright is one of those artists whose early work still sounds every bit as accomplished as his next release, and it's all driven by a personality big enough to perform a Judy Garland live album in its entirety and pull it off. So if Ronson's involvement doesn't grant Out of the Game too many surprises, chalk it up to an unshakeable personal aesthetic. As if to underscore the point, Wainwright and Ronson resurrect several old, unrecorded songs, including the Beatles-by-way-of-Imperial Bedroom march "Welcome to the Ball", and they fit right in. Thus the only real concern is whether Out of the Game is a good Rufus Wainwright album. It is. In fact, it's his best since 2003's ornate Want One.

Keep in mind that this is a slightly more buttoned-down Rufus Wainwright than the hungry romantic of his debut and Poses or the alternately flirty and regretful cynic of the Want albums. These are songs about friends, family and long-term partners, and Wainwright lets us know up front what he thinks of those pretty young things living the fast life he once led. "Look at you suckers", he sings on the opener and title track. "Does your mama know what you're doing?" Not that settling down comes with zero reservations ("Say, come over here / Let me smell you for one last time / Before you go out there / And ruin all the world, once mine"), but Wainwright's a family man now.

Speaking of family, Rufus properly inducts baby daughter Viva into the Wainwright tradition of songs-about-relations on the lilting "Montauk". Perhaps knowing what it's like to have embarrassment thrust upon oneself in infancy via his father's famously incorrect "Rufus is a Tit Man", Wainwright spares his daughter the indignity and charmingly makes light of himself and his fiancé instead: "One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad wearing a kimono / And see your other dad pruning roses / Hope you won't turn around and go". But Wainwright has seldom been one to leave it at "cute", and, by the last verse, he's managed to turn this little premonition into a sad, loving memorial to his late mother, eloquently connecting Kate McGarrigle to her granddaughter in song. Naturally, his mother merits her own tribute, as well, the contemplative closer, "Candles", tellingly layered with McGarrigle's primary instrument, the accordion, and concluded with a mournful bagpipe salute.

Largely, though, Wainwright keeps things light on Out of the Game. Even when he's fighting with a stubborn lover on "Jericho", the argument floats on the soft rhythmic bump and orchestral padding of prime, poppy Elton John. And, more often than not, these songs have happy endings. The lean, electronic "Bitter Tears" may start with him choking on the same, but "In discussing with the morning, everything's gonna be okay", and, on the sprightly, stuttering "Perfect Man", he spins a fractured, lovesick narrative, but resolves to make "all of the roses bloom in unison". He coats the "You've Got a Friend" sentiment offered to "Barbara" in organic, blue-eyed soul a la Hall & Oates vintage 1975, and crashes "Rashida"'s party with Queen-esque holds and a buzzy guitar lead that might make you momentarily misread that producer credit as "Mick" Ronson.

The only major fumble on Out of the Game is in the sequencing. "Candles" is the natural closer here, but Wainwright and Ronson start winding things down two songs earlier. Starting with "Sometimes You Need", a fine mixed-feelings ode to L.A. with a Sean Lennon assist on guitar, and continuing through the uncharacteristically straightforward "Song of You", the tempos dip and the subjects get progressively heavy and heartfelt.

It's a small complaint, however, especially considering Out of the Game in light of Wainwright's darker work of late. He may not have made good on all of his predictions for what this album would be, but maybe it's for the best. Who needs another collection of radio-friendly, commercial, sexy, danceable pop songs, when there's this great new Rufus Wainwright album?

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

London alt-soulman Jordan Rakei is a restless musical spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.