Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rufus Wainwright - Out Of The Game

Before its release, Rufus Wainwright stated that Out Of The Game was his most "danceable" work yet.  His 2010 album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, was a dark Shakespearean venture that showcased Wainwright's operatic stylings on the piano.  Mistakes along the line of overproduction were nearly impossible with the concept that entangled All Days Are Nights.  It was stripped and elegant.  For the production on Out Of The Game, Rufus teamed up with the man behind some of Adele and Amy Winehouse's biggest singles, Mark Ronson.  With Ronson by his side, Rufus Wainwright's seventh album is a snap back into the full band sound that encompassed some of his earlier work.

The album's lead single and title track helped the record make its initial impact when a music video starring Helena Bonham Carter hit the internet.  The odd video had the actress mouthing away to Wainwright's vocals for one of this year's most interesting and humorous videos.  The lead single is also a signal of Rufus' direction with this album.  It's melodic style is one of Wainwright's stronger features.  Taking a more traditional pop song structure, "Out Of The Game" builds up into a chorus of "Look at you, look at you, look at you, look at you suckers", as he declares his feelings towards a younger generation of musicians "doing all that they have to do on Youtube". He explains his attitude towards the lyrics by stating, "I'm not being insensitive, just tired".  It's a mix of ridicule and envy.

In today's music industry, when someone says that their creating an album that's "danceable", synthetic beats come to mind.  That's not the case with this album, so forget about any images of clubs and Katy Perry.  When Rufus says "danceable", he means an acoustic Motown inspired beat.  Think of pre-eighties genres that have a groove to them, excluding disco.  It doesn't sound dated, though.  It's mature and works perfectly with Ronson's production.

All of the elements that surround Wainwright's voice are the main attraction on Out Of The Game.  The lyrics are largely about his family relationships. "Candles" is about his late mother, Kate McGarrigle.  "Montauk" tells the story of a future vision where Rufus' daughter, Viva, joins him and his fianc√©, Jorn, at their Montauk home.  The personal stories matched with his ability to write a soaring melody are a winning formula.

A gathering of musicians serve as the band on Out Of The Game.  Three other Wainwright family members provide backup vocals.  Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs plays the electric guitar.  Sean Lennon plays the acoustic guitar.  Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow sings some more backup vocals.  The list goes on and on.  There's clearly a strong base to the supporting aspects of the album.

Rufus Wainwright's records can have the tendency to really open up over time and with several listens.  No matter what kind of music you listen to, you know what I'm talking about.  Albums and songs grow on you as you live with them.  Something you once despised can become your most adored memory.  That sort of situation happened to me with this record.  I never outright disliked anything about it, but with every listen, I grow towards it even more.

I imagine some listeners would dismiss this album for being a bit old-fashioned or forgettable.  It's a patient collection of songs and there's a very impatient market out there today  That market, however, isn't the audience for Rufus.  The target audience for this musician is one that loves flashback pop tunes, theatrical vocal harmonies, and classical arrangements.  There's a lack of flashing lights and huge surprises, but the idea of Rufus Wainwright moving towards a more mainstream sound that's really danceable is bizarre.  When it comes down to it, I prefer the stripped down arrangements that focus on his piano and the melody.  Simple, yet effective.  Mark Ronson's production work brought that idea of "simple yet effective" to more expanded level.

Rufus isn't trying to keep up with anyone except himself, and this album is full of great material.  Moments such as "Montauk", "Out Of The Game", and "Song Of You" shine bright.  The record could've easily gone a different direction and resulted in a bland mess, but the man played his cards right and hit the target.  He sings' "I'm out of the game / I've been out for a long time now", but maybe Rufus Wainwright isn't as out of the game as he thought he was.

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