Rufus Wainwright reportedly just completed a stint in rehab. Although he may be trying to simplify things in his private life, his latest record is full of the same extravagantly lush mini pop-operas we’ve come to expect.
Lyrically, the record finds him both commenting on the world around him and coming to grips with his relationship to his famous parents (Dad is Loudon Wainwright, Mom is Kate McGarrigle). The opening “Oh What A World” features a full orchestra, lots of layered vocals and a melody lifted from Ravel’s “Bolero.” “Oh what a world my parents gave me,” he sings. “Always traveling but not in love / Still I think I’m doing fine / Wouldn’t it be a lovely headline: ‘Life is Beautiful’ on the New York Times.”
Perhaps the record’s best pop song is the relatively slow-building “I Don’t Know What It Is.” “Sick of looking around at friendly faces / All declaring a war on far off places,” Wainwright sings. “Movies of Myself” may be as close as this record gets to a rocker. And, Wainwright’s typically laconic vocal delivery is given a workout on the range-stretching “Go or Go Ahead.”
“Vibrate” is like a ballad from a strange Broadway musical with Wainwright in full self-deprecating mode. “I tried to dance to Britney Spears / I guess I’m getting on in years,” he sings. The outstanding, brass-driven “14th Street” could be a showstopper from the same musical. Wainwright’s sister Martha, mom Kate, The Band’s Levon Helm and guitarist Charlie Sexton all contribute.
The record isn’t entirely bombast and flowery arrangements though. “Natasha” is a sweet ballad with strings that could pass for a lost McCartney classic. Wainwright takes a solo piano turn on “Pretty Things” and hops over to the Fender Rhodes for “Vicious World.” The title track is a nice acoustic ballad as well, with Wainwright offering, “I don’t want… to be John Lennon or Leonard Cohen / I just want to be my Dad / With a slight sprinkling of my mother.” He ends the record, however, with “Dinner At Eight,” a tune about a rough patch in his relationship with his Dad.
Want is the most accessible, most ambitious and most accomplished record of Wainwright’s career. And the best news of all: Wainwright reportedly recorded 30 songs for the record. So a quick follow-up is expected in the new year.