Rufus Wainwright’s second album is one of the most inventive, fresh sounding records of the year so far. Combining the best of musical theatre, classic Cole Porter-style songwriting and his own unique lyrical concerns, Wainwright and his producers outdo themselves in creating this lush record.
Poses begins and ends with one of the best examples of Wainwright’s brand of baroque cabaret pop, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” He lists a few of his favorite indulgences and laments, “Everything it seems I like’s• a little bit harmful for me.” The melody effortlessly goes to unexpected places amid the soaring string section and Wainwright’s electric piano. The song, like much of Poses, manages to be both musically challenging and very accessible. The production team, which includes Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan) and Ethan Johns (Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams), packs every track with interesting sounds and musical ideas, but Poses is ultimately less cluttered and ornate than Wainwright’s debut record.
Dobro, mandolin, French horn, and strings combine to produce the luxuriant, Asian-accented “Greek Song.” Wainwright’s voice can sound a bit nasal and excessively languorous at times but on songs like the album’s title track he proves to have remarkable range as he sings wry lines like “Now I’m drunk and wearing flip-flops on Fifth Avenue.”
“California” is funny and melodically complex, with Wainwright opining about “whiffs of freon and my new Grandma Bea Arthur.” He seems to echo Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” on “The Tower of Learning” when he sings, “All the sights of Paris pale inside your iris.” “Evil Angel” has a sinister neo-Gothic quality. And on “Rebel Prince,” Wainwright sings a verse in French just for the heck of it. The record’s lone non-original is a cover of his father Loudon Wainwright III’s song, “One Man Guy.” It’s also the sparest track musically with just an acoustic guitar. But Rufus’ sister Martha and Teddy (son of Richard) Thompson provide nice vocal accompaniment and the track seems as full as many of the more instrumentally fleshed out numbers.
With Wainwright’s droll wit, sophisticated pop craftsmanship, and theatrical presentation in abundant supply, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better record than Poses.