Relax gentle readers, it’s good. It’s great in fact – an instant classic. But it’s different. The anticipation as to where Rufus Wainwright would go next following Want One and Want Two was felt on every street corner throughout the land, speculated by workers at millions of water coolers, bantered between commuters and treatised by barflies nationwide.
Okay, maybe not, and it was precisely because of this lack of worldwide Rufus-love that on Release The Stars he was, apparently, ‘going for the sound of cash registers’. But that probably won’t happen. It is another collection of operatic productions with lyrics obscure and literate, certainly not offering an easy ride to a mass audience. And it is for this that we love him so.
But it is different, like I say. Want was the cathartic unleashing of the emotion, fear and self-destructive zeal that had made up Rufus’ 20s. These are two of the greatest purgation albums ever made. Heart on his sleeve stuff, it proved that to plunge to unimaginable depths of suffering emboldens the artist to sumptuous heights.
Since, he has been relatively happy. He is in love, completely off drugs and even has a workable relationship with his father, Loudon. So what is there to write about? The state of the world perhaps. Single Going To A Town articulates the wretchedness of Bush’s America. What else is ripe for subject matter? Err, Brandon Flowers of the The Killers. Rock’s most famous Mormon has his sexuality brutally questioned on Tulsa. What’s going on with Rufus? Where are the gay messiahs and star-crossed, cosmically doomed love affairs? He is different now. He has moved on – or at least is trying to. But…
‘I’m tired of writing elegies’ he sings on the beautiful Sanssouci, which is a bit like when Beyoncé said she was tired of being sexy. Writing songs of mourning and sorrow is part of Rufus’ anatomical make-up and thank God, he includes a few on Release The Stars. Not Ready To Love is a slow, stunning ballad in the mould of his eponymous debut album, released way back in 1998. Opener Do I Disappoint You evokes 11:11 from Want One, and is the perfect introduction to Rufus’ new creative period. That voice, which begs the question of how such a sound can come from one pair of human lungs, hits the listener’s guts with force after about 11 seconds. Immediate intensity. As ever, no fucking about. Surely the next single. The album’s finest track, the epic Slideshow, treads the same terrain.
Release The Stars is not without his obligatory camp charm and sense of fun. Tulsa is an example, as is Between My Legs, a departure in that it is electric-guitar driven, vaguely similar to Want Two’s The One You Love. What the line ‘I’ll shed a tear between my legs’ means is open to some level of interpretation, but not much. His efforts to leave the whole gay thing to one side for a while are not exactly helped by the album’s sleeve, containing Rufus dressed in lederhosen like one of the Von Trapp children.
Richard and Teddy Thompson, Joan Wasser and Rufus’ mother Kate McGarrigle are on hand to help out, as is producer extraordinaire Marius de Vries and executive producer Neil Tennant. Martha Wainwright is nowhere to be seen this time.
All in all, his vision has moved on, as it had to. After the tremulous Wants, this is the comedown, and few comedowns are as pretty as this. It is different in many ways, but never neglects the melodic, vocal and lyrical genius that has established, and will continue to establish, his status as one of the all time greats.