“It’s the best work of my career,” says Mark Ronson of Rufus Wainwright’s seventh album, for which he serves as executive producer – a bold claim considering Ronson’s repertoire will forever include the tall shadow cast by Amy Winehouse‘s Back To Black. But the thing is, whereas that album was so definitively, heart on its sleeve Ronson-esque, Out Of The Game wears his input far more subtly. Indeed, there are moments when all overt traces of his touch seem to disappear completely – a sure testament to his accomplished versatility and the symbiosis the album is so plainly invested with. That delicate balance between producer and artist, the battle for dominance – here all that dissolves away into the sheer singularity of great music.
Rufus is equally effusive about the record – “the most pop album I’ve ever made”. In that sense of realising all his pop ambitions, Wainwright’s talent blooms into something quite magnificent, flowering from the seams of every polished exemplar of his flair; epitomised in the exuberant grandstanding of Jericho. It’s as if some new, magnificent part of his mind has suddenly been uncorked to allow the rich, matured songwriting liquor to flow free. There’s a sort of Taste The Difference velour to the record, a general air of ease at having conjured such a well rounded pop album into existence. Ronson’s production is luxuriously smooth, easing into the cabaret bar feel of Rashida with decadent horn riffs and a Wainwright vocal that trips off the track with just the right touch of sensuality. Fuzzy guitar riffs add a flair of Aladdin Sane era David Bowie, Wainwright working the glam trappings into his repertoire with defined theatricality.
The jaunty fairground strut of Welcome To The Ball is ‘Pop Rufus’ at its fullest, most ecstatic best. “Don’t worry about nothing at all,” he assures with rapt enjoyment, sliding into the capacity of showman extraordinaire, a role he excels in. There’s a sort of timeless embodiment to his being; as if simultaneously characterising some Victorian magician, a live-wire Charlie Chaplin type and gracious modern host, all at once.
Synth-tinged Bitter Tears feels like it could have come off the recent Stuart Price produced Take That effort, or – at a push – an ‘imperial phase’ Pet Shop Boys LP. A highlight, it mixes more of the fairground melodies with a transcendent celestial ambience that crystallises as something utterly beautiful – angelic female choirs floating around icy electronics. Perfect Man steps into the PSB territory again, but with an infinitely more playful lilt than when Wainwright actually worked with Neil Tennant on his 2007 LP Release The Stars. Both songs, and the album as a whole, are aligned to an inherently sardonic outlook on life; the short and sweet summaries of individual personas wrapped up in four minute pop songs. But amidst all this, Out Of The Game remains a record very much born of romance, of ‘making all of the roses bloom’.
The mis-steps are few, chiefly the jangly slow jams Respectable Dive and Song Of You. Too languid in pace – despite their retro charms – it’s as if, for a moment, the muse that has so gifted the rest of the album has blinked out. These moments feel just that bit looser than the rest of the record, where both Wainwright and Ronson come together with a well-mannered tightness and proficiency that, at best, astounds.
What befits Out Of The Game so well is Wainwright’s keen sense of essential pop melody that flows throughout the production. Even amidst the more minimal, steely moments of the album’s brooding introspection, those chorus hooks glisten through like sun beams caught all radiant in a fresh shower of rain. The essence of hope and softly imagined dreams glisten through in the far distance, hanging like lights in the sky, a mantle of wondered loveliness. Writer, singer, showman; in every part – and most importantly, in all these aspects combined – Rufus is consistently the consummate, exquisite professional.