Mike Atkinson

Rufus Wainwright – Release The Stars

Posted in album reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on May 11, 2007

Rufus Wainwright has one of those classic Marmite voices. By his own admission, there’s a nasal, whining quality to his singing that will irritate many. However, once that line is crossed, you will discover one of the richest, most expressive vocal talents that modern music has to offer.

As with all Wainwright’s albums, there’s an awful lot to digest here. This is complex, multi-layered stuff, which demands concentration and repeated playing. To avoid the onset of mental indigestion, it is probably best approached in two sittings, six songs at a time.

The first half works particularly well as a “song cycle”, with clear lyrical themes running between numbers. Do I Disappoint You is the big orchestral opener, performing a similar function to Oh What A World on 2003’s Want One. As the song progresses, layers of sound are piled on top of each other – a trick which will be repeated time and again.

Current single Going To A Town continues the theme of barbed disillusionment, as Rufus declares that he’s “so tired of America”, and prepares to make his escape. The song starts mournfully, but ends with purposeful defiance (“I got a life to lead, I got a soul to feed”) – again setting the tone for much of what lies ahead.

With Tiergarten, the Wainwright wanderings commence. The album was recorded variously in London, Paris and Berlin, and the sense of an exile’s displaced restlessness is strongly in evidence. The mood is light and pastoral, with a touch of the Brian Wilsons in its swooning harmonies.

From here on in, the same patterns are followed. Downbeat introductions repeatedly give way to climactic orchestral flourishes, displaying Wainwright’s astonishing arrangement skills. Between My Legs offers an unprecedented nod towards rock, featuring Richard Thompson on lead guitar and a bizarre dramatic monologue from Sian Phillips. The orchestra is only laid to rest once, on the comparatively stark ballad Leaving For Paris No. 2. Slideshow is the album’s biggest show-stopper, pitting Thompson’s country-rock guitar against thrilling brass stabs.

Unlike its predecessors, there is little playful light relief to be found – unless you count Sam Taylor Wood’s photographs, in which Rufus poses in monogrammed lederhosen, fingertips stuffed down the front. Executive producer Neil Tennant has done a sterling job, although you will search in vain for any electronic dance beats.

Like its creator, Release The Stars is ambitious, precocious and ever so slightly pretentious. It is also his ravishing, triumphant masterpiece.

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