The first I ever heard of Rufus Wainwright was when I heard his version of Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered “Hallelujah,” accompanied by himself on piano. What struck me then was his voice and how it carried the emotional steel and resignation of the song. His voice lends itself to mournful, emotional crescendos, and throughout his career, Wainwright has been known for beautifully dark music, full of sad romance.
The singer-songwriter’s latest album, Out of the Game, is, as expressed by Wainwright, an attempt to enliven his usually melancholy fare. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Wainwright noted that his new album came out of a desire to create “something that you can put on at a party and people won’t leave the room.”
This new album takes a more lighthearted approach to the music, helped along by the pop influence of producer Mark Ronson, in combination with Wainwright’s lyrical flourishes and theatricality. Elements of his trademark melancholia weave in – but the album maintains its integrity as a cohesive collection of tracks, despite going in a number of different stylistic directions.
This album is imbued with flourishes of musical theatre (“Welcome to the Ball”) and melodies reminiscent of 70s musical standards – multi-person choruses, tambourines, and such (“Jericho”).
It references life experiences, ranging from Wainwright’s new experience as a parent (in the epistolary “Montauk,” sung as a letter for his new daughter, Viva) to “Candles,” a touching tribute to his late mother, Kate McGarrigle, which wraps up the album.
In recent times, Wainwright has experienced a number of personal and professional ups and downs. He has a new baby girl with partner Jorn Weisbrodt, and his mother Kate McGarrigle recently passed away. In addition to these events is the ambitious project he undertook recently, right before this album, of writing a full opera. The result, Prima Donna, premiered at the New York City Opera and marked Wainwright’s first foray into classical composition. Of course, right around the same time, Wainwright embarked on a solo piano voice tour.
In light of all that, it is understandable that Wainwright would want to come out with a more carefree record – or at least, as far in the direction of carefree as a person who writes an entire album as a means to rest from his other endeavours can go!
However, side by side with gleeful tunes having catchy rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities – like “Rashida” and soulful, bluesy fare like “Barbara” – aspects of his trademark melancholy still find expression in this album.
On the track “Sometimes You Need,” Wainwright conjures the images of fitful sadness interspersed with moments of hope buoyed up on outside forces: “Sometimes you need a stranger to walk with. . . . Sometimes a movie star’s spark gets you through the dark.”
Similarly, “Barbara” takes the listener into a dark rain-soaked night, where the protagonist nonetheless finds solace in simple things like music and wine: “If you’re running from your doorstep and you don’t know where to go to / Drinking rosé in the rain, or listening to the sad song, over and over again.”
His relationship with his partner Jorn Weisbrodt is explored through the melody “Song of You”: “So you want a song / So you want a song / A song just for you / There are many melodies to choose from but there’s only one who’s you.”
Meanwhile, his projections for the future are recorded in his ode to his baby daughter, Viva, in the song “Montauk”:
One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad wearing
a kimono and see your other dad pruning roses
Hope you won’t turn around and go
One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad playing the piano
and see your other dad wearing glasses
Hope that you will want to stay for a while
Don’t worry, I know you’ll have to go
One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad trying to be funny
and see your other dad seeing through me
Hope that you will protect your dad
One day you will come to Montauk and see your dad trying to be evil
and see your other dad feeling lonely
Hope that you will protect him, and stay
Don’t worry, I know you’ll have to go
With a range of subjects and musical styles covered on this album, Wainwright seems to be exploring further than his usual boundaries. All in all, the album contains a wide enough medley of songs to appeal both to long-time Wainwright fans as well as to those who may come to it with hard-set expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised.
01. Out of the Game
05. Welcome to the Ball
07. Bitter Tears
08. Respectable Dive
09. Perfect Man
10. Sometimes You Need
11. Song of You