Rufus Wainwright's Rufus Wainwright
It seems too easy a target. Rufus Wainwright, son of
renowned folkies Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, decides to record
his own album. The list of famous musicians' progeny who mistakenly thought
they would inherit their parents' songwriting ability along with their genes is
too long to recite here, but the names Julian Lennon, Hank Williams, Jr., and
Jakob Dylan ought to be enough to strike fear into people's hearts.
Wainwright, however, has avoided the curse that infected those who came before
him by creating his own musical niche instead of rehashing the music his
parents made. His self-titled debut is far more informed by Broadway and
cabaret than folk music, and though his musical tastes lean toward the
overblown, they never become overbearing.
The presence of both Brian Wilson associate Van Dyke Parks and Jon Brion, who
assisted Fiona Apple on her brilliant debut, certainly doesn't hurt Wainwright.
But he is far from being a puppet of the musicians he so clearly admires.
Instead, he flexes his own muscles in every song. The tracks reward a closer
listen: lyrically, Wainwright attempts to emulate the timeless Broadway
standards of the past, but his wicked sense of humor always gets the best of
him and stamps the songs with a uniquely modern sensibility. "April Fools"
provides a perfect example of how Wainwright twists Broadway tradition to fit
his nefarious lyrical schemes. The chorus to the song croons, "And you will
believe in love/ and all that it's supposed to be/ but just until the fish
start to smell/ and you're struck down by a hammer."
The most astonishing thing about Rufus Wainwright is the musical
backdrop. Wainwright writes songs that surprise, songs that stop and start in
unfamiliar places and combine traditional instruments like piano and guitar
with subtle, quasi-electronic elements. The result is that every note falls in
the right place, waiting for the right moment to spring out of the darkness and
Wainwright's words are well-suited to the music, revealing his inner conflict
between innocence and optimism on one side and wisdom and world-weariness on
the other. In writing about missing lovers, dead friends, and the lost days of
a glorious past, he strives for the correct tone of longing, but his voice
gives him away as an optimist at heart. It soars at emotional moments and
creates little frills around the choruses of every song. His voice reveals him
as a believer in love, even when the stench of dead fish makes the air too
heavy to breathe.
This is not to say that Wainwright is a charlatan, playing a part he hasn't
put his heart into. He differs from most other talented modern songwriters by
being better at a clever turn of phrase and a tricky internal rhyme than at
heavily confessional lyrics. His words have a universality, and his optimism
drips from everything he sings. Wainwright is a songwriter to be reckoned with,
a throwback to the days of George Gershwin and Cole Porter for his tunefulness
and wit. One day he will likely record a formidable collection of songs of
experience to accompany these songs of innocence. (DreamWorks)