Album Reviews

Rufus Wainwright – Milwaukee At Last!!!

(Polydor) UK release date: 7 September 2009

Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee At Last!!! Following hot on the heels of Rufus Wainwright‘s rather tepidly received opera, Prima Donna, the Canadian’s second live album in less than two years is a very different beast to his mammoth Carnegie Hall tribute to Judy Garland.

For a start, there’s just 10 songs here – the vast majority of which come from the Release The Stars album. This isn’t a place for the newcomer to gain an overview of Wainwright’s career so far – there’s no Dinner At Eight, 14th Street, One Man Guy, Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk: in fact just the one song from the Want sessions is here, and there’s nothing at all from Wainwright’s first two albums.

The album is intended to accompany the much longer DVD, recorded as the title would suggest in Milwaukee during the Release The Stars tour. Perhaps that would be a better purchase, as taken on its own, Milwaukee At Last is something of an oddity.

It’s not that the music is bad – on the contrary in fact. The arrangements here are strong and swooping, and Wainwright is in terrific voice throughout. Only occasionally does he slip into self-indulgence, such as on the drawn out, 15 minute meshing together of Not Ready For Love and Slideshow.

Unusually for Wainwright, he’s on safer ground when he’s more restrained. If Love Were All, his rendition of the Noël Coward song last heard on the Garland tribute, is beautifully quiet and sombre, while Going To A Town has an anger bubbling under the surface which is most effective. Wainwright’s vocal expertise is also finely demonstrated on the Celtic folk song Macushla.

Yet nothing here is sufficiently different from the recorded versions, and apart from the aforementioned epic Not Ready For Love/Souvenir, there’s no rare tracks or rearrangements that would warrant anyone other than the most dedicated Rufus follower to purchase this.

The over-reliance on Release The Stars also hampers the album. While it’s a fine record, it doesn’t hit the heights of Want One or Want Two, and this live set is sorely missing any early material. At times, you feel like you’re listening to Release The Stars, only in a different order and with added audience appreciation.

Overall, there’s nothing much here for even Wainwright obsessives to get excited about. Buy it as a companion for the far superior DVD, or if you’re desperate for a souvenir of the Release The Stars tour. Otherwise, this is strictly for completists only.

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