Something to be desired

OK. At what point did I come to like Rufus Wainwright?

When he first debuted in 1998, it astounded me that anyone would think he actually had an appealing singing voice. If people complained about Shiina Ringo having a weird voice, I’d point to Wainwright (and Bob Dylan, for that matter) and mention something about pots and kettles and black.

Wainwright annoyed me. And I still think he sings through his nose.

But let’s face it — the guy can write a tune. An article in Rolling Stone about children of rock stars mentions the tension between Rufus and his famous folk-singer father, Loudon III. At the moment, Rufus has the bigger star.

(Note how Martha Wainwright is being plugged as Rufus’ sister, not Loudon’s daughter.)

And Wainwright wouldn’t be the pet of critics and fans alike if he didn’t have some sort game.

2003’s Want was originally intended to be a double album, but his label didn’t want to gamble selling a 2-disc set to a buying public accustomed to file sharing.

So Wainwright split the album up, releasing Want One in 2003 and Want Two in 2004. It’s hard not to draw an analogy to the release of Radiohead’s Kid A, followed not long after by Amnesiac.

The initial releases in both instances have the stronger material.

That’s not to say Want Two is nothing but filler. The album, in fact, is incredibly eclectic, knocking on the door of unfocused but not treading the threshold.

The exoticism of “Agnus Dei” makes it the most unlikely song to open an album. “Little Sister”, “The Art Teacher” and “Hometown Waltz” manage to veer from classicism to balladry and back again without seeming incongruous.

The second half of the album is steeped in moodiness. “This Love Affair” has the kind of long, drawn out melody ideal for showcasing Wainwright’s emotive belt, while “Memphis Skyline” is the perfect song for a 1 a.m. set at a jazz bar.

But Want Two doesn’t possess the kind of clarity of its predecessor, and in that sense, the album feels more like leftovers, much in the same way Amnesiac wasn’t much more than Kid B-Side.

If you had to choose between the two Wants, go for the first. But if you can afford both, by all means get both.