Man, what a show-off.
Quoting Maurice Ravel’s Bolero in the middle of the opening track on an album? That’s so gay.
But Rufus Wainwright has never really hidden that fact — that he’s a show-off.
Back in 1998, I tried to get through the first couple of tracks on his self-titled debut but couldn’t do it — Wainwright was just way too heavy-handed with his songwriting smarts.
He reigned them in for 1991’s Poses, an album on which he claims he “sold out”. But on Want One — the first of what was originally intended to be a two-volume set (again with the showing off) — he’s loosened his grip on that reign.
But not too much.
Wainwright characterizes Want as his hangover album, and there’s a lushness to it that seems measured. He’s not afraid to bring in the strings and the orchestra at the appointed dramatic climax of a song, but he isn’t obliged to get Andrew Lloyd Webber on a listener’s ass either.
Okay, maybe he does get theatrical on the 7-minute “Go or Go Ahead”, and on “Beautiful Child” and “14th Street”.
But the orchestral touches on “Movies of Myself” and “I Don’t Know What It Is” don’t overpower the songs themselves. And on “Natasha”, they suite Wainwright beautifully.
On other tracks, it’s just him and that piano. “Pretty Things” is just that.
Wainwright’s voice has gotten better, too. In the beginning, he sounded like he sipped from the same helium balloon that propelled Shiina Ringo’s singing on her debut album.
But when he lets his voice out for that big moment, he can handle himself well enough.
Want One isn’t as singles-ready as Poses — which isn’t saying much since “California” was really the only single-ready track on that album — but it does house some nice performances by Wainwright. And it’s the performance moreso than the writing that ultimately seduces.
He’s still a show-off, that Rufus Wainwright, but he’s not as precocious about it anymore.