on November 4, 2003
Rufus Wainwright is an unfortunately little-known singer/songwriter with a very strong, very loyal cult following. His debut self-titled debut album is tpyical of what has become Rufus' own genre of sorts. Yes, his own genre, because there is absolutely nothing like Rufus' work. His music is hauntingly original, using varied instruments to acheive a near-perfect range of sound.
This album has no profound information regarding a bad childhood, inner-city living, or even the trials of the working man. It is an eclectic assortment of music that reflects the little things of life like love. Rufus' voice exudes the emotion that the listener begins to feel from listening to the elegant lyrics flowing effortlessly from their speakers. This album has been the most enjoyably diverse that I have purchased in 12 months.
on February 22, 2006
It is circa 1996 on Fairfax avenue in Los Angeles. The place is Largo, the room dense with people. In one corner is an upright piano. I have been invited by a friend who tells me that she thinks I will like this singer.
At first note, I am won. Nasal, scratchy like a tumbleweed on a smooth road, the songs are so masterful, beautifully written, that there is no dismissing Rufus Wainwright. Later at a party, Van Dyke Parks will be there. A hero since Surfs Up" which is one of the most panaramic songs ever written (by Brian Wilson), he is hard to approach, as is Rufus, who seems to fall back into the bedrooms periodically for those things we cannot discuss.
It was all uphill. He blossomed. He wrote, he sang and he became famous. Last summer I saw him at the Wiltern, up very close as the Wiltern decided to make the beautiful deco palace a slum by removing all the seats. Still girly, still sometimes silly, always poetic, it was good to see that Rufus had not lost the promise. He lost the drugs, hopefully found a lover and will someday soon compose a movie score (hint). This is talent, so rare today, in its ability to convey thoughts, images that actually require some mind.
Okay, so what if Randy Newman had been a young gay man steeped in Tin Pan Alley and showtunes instead of Southern California sarcasm and movie soundtracks? Then you may have gotten a debut similar to Rufus Wainright's. When this album came out in 1998, it received an unbelievable amount of hype, with Rolling Stone going as far as calling it one of the best albums of the year. Naturally curious, I picked it up.
I was left to scratch my head and wonder what all the fuss was about. Yes, Rufus was eccentric and somewhat original, he had the family pedigree to back it all up genetically, but this debut CD was nowhere near the great white hope it was being written up as. In fact, with the exception of three songs, I still find it to be precocious and grating. But it was those three songs....
"Foolish Love" certainly courted the Newman comparisons. The piano arrangement brought a lyrical flair forward that made the disc start off with promise. "April Fool" certainly borrowed liberally from Elton John, The Beatles and the Beach Boys and made for a pretty decent video (and was one of the things that moved me to buy this disc). And "Barcelona" captured a simple acoustic beauty that would burst forth in full bloom several years later when "Poses" was released. In fact, I was so underwhelmed by this debut that I didn't even get "Poses" when it was first released; it was Rufus' version of "Across The Universe" that made me ask "is that the same guy?" and go pick it up.
So while I still listen to this from time to time, if you're curious as to why Rufus Wainwright gets the cultish devotion he actually does deserve, his debut is NOT the place to start. I'd suggest picking up "Poses" if you're a fan of singer songwriters first, or if you're more into lush arrangements and Pop-Opera, go with "Want One." They are both much more mature and focused records. "Rufus Wainwright" is the sound of a young man given too much rope, but getting his musical wild oats out of his system.
on January 16, 2005
Honest to God, if you like this kind of music, you'll like Rufus Wainwright. If you don't, you'll hate it. There are samples right there - listen to them. I've just read many of the reviews, most of which were trying to argue matters of taste - trying to convince the people who loved this album that they didn't know what they were talking about. I only wish that all (or some) of the albums I've bought on faith/friend's recommendations were nearly this good.
Being a fan of Loudon Wainwright III's music for many years, I was curious about what kind of songs his son might turn out. The younger crowd was all abuzz , showing lots of love early for the boy, something his dad could have used a bit more of.
I picked up this disc several years ago. I gave it a listen, and then put it away again until I was ripping music to fill my new mp3 player.
I've listened to it over five times today.
Before posting this, I read ALL 177 prior reviews. I cannot believe that the two opposite camps are discussing the same CD. What the `Pro-Rufus' group says is great, the `Con-Rufus' group tears down, and vice versa. Controversy always follows the provocative, especially if it has merit or value. Otherwise, no one would care about it.
Most of the the reviews are either "5 star" or "1 star", there are hardly any twos or threes. Regardless, the one thing out of line are the rating numbers, especially those based on Wainwright's smoldering good looks or his alternative lifestyle. Folks, this is a music CD. Let's keep our comments focused on the musical content.
I agree that his music defies genre. It's not what typically passes as `singer-songwriter' fare. I think this CD might reflect what Rufus' first Broadway-musical might end up sounding like. He has that kind of potential.
Yes, the album is overproduced. Sometimes this is good and adds to the melody and lyric like on `Barcelona' or `Matinee Idol'. Other times it comes off bloated and unnecessary, as in `Baby', `Damned Ladies', or `Millbrook'.
In his 11/30/99 review, the prolific reviewer "music fan" made a perceptive observation: "Wainwright made his debut much in the same way Rickie Lee Jones did"... Yes, I remember the same kind of controversy about Rickie Lee. You either liked her vocal style or not. And a lot of people felt strongly about it either way.
I'm a great fan of Loudon's music, and back in the day it took a few listens to get used to his voice, too. The bright spot with Rufus is that he doesn't need to sing in that whiny nasally way all the time. 'Beauty Mark' and `April Fools' are evidence of that. It all comes down to whether you like his vocal stylings or not.
My other difficulty is that I can't always grasp what it is he's singing about. Another reviewer said "his love songs are so personal that they really portait true emotion". Maybe that's the problem, the love songs ARE too personal. Why do I struggle with it? Is it because I'm a straight, middle-aged dad, is it because I'm just not hip anymore, or are the songs genuinely obtuse? I think I like `Sally Ann' and `Barcelona', but what are they about? Beautiful melodies with cryptic lyrics don't always make friends of their listeners.
There are bright spots in this disc, but you have to listen to it a good many times to hear them, a factor that hampers the music's accessibility. Sister Martha's clear background vocals are a precious contribution. `Beauty Mark', `In My Arms', and `April Fools' are easily my favorite songs.
If you are undecided on whether to purchase `Rufus Wainwright', I suggest you borrow a copy or take one out from the Library before you buy it.
Because in order to give this its due, you truly must give it several listenings. Therefore, I will burn this disc to my mp3 player after all, and give it a few more listens. Some of these songs truly sound better every time I hear them.
on June 13, 1999
True critically important talent in each generation of musicians tends to come from those who can take traditional pop, folk, rock, jazz, whatever styles and reinfuse them with modern sensibilities, essentially reinventing the genre. There are many failed attempts, (Ricky Martin, anyone?) but then there's Rufus Wainwright. Somewhere between vaudeville ivory-tickler and queer melodrama lies Wainwright's synthesis of playful piano stylings and "important" confessionals about all the sufferings of (true?) love. Does this mean he's the heir apparent to Meatloaf? God, I hope not. Instead of industrial-strength balladeering, Wainwright's wistful ironies lack the kind of clenched brow fist-shaking that makes other singer-songwriter drama queens look foolish by comparison. Wainwright is unafraid to be honest about the depths of his feelings, like any good writers of the confessional school, but he's also too smart (and too trusting of his audience) to not acknowledge just how pathetic that can be. If melodrama like Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion is weeping-in-front-of-a-mirror material, Rufus is slap-yourself-in-the-face-and-snap-out-of-it empowerment. Wainwright is unafraid to experience the full depth of his feeling, but also intelligent enough to not drown in it. His skill lies in beautifully communicating both; the complexity with which he communicates both the romance and pathos of his songs is what makes his music so compelling.
on January 10, 2005
Rufus Wainwright had been recommended to me by a musician friend who said, "You have to hear this guy. He's writing stuff like no one else out there." So I came to Amazon and read the review for "Poses" that said it was "horrible". I had to hear it. After listening 5,6, 400 times, I went out and bought Want One and Want Two. Such beautiful music that wants to stay in your head all day, and I wondered what the previous reviewer found so frightening, so scary about this music to give it such a bad review. That Rufus Wainwright doesn't use a pick? If this reviewer had actually studied the guitar and not learned just the standard three chords, he might know that there are many ways to play a guitar, a pick being just one of them. I adore Rufus Wainwright's open-handed strum and am trying to emulate it myself into some of my playing. Buy this CD, and then go out and get Want One and Want Two. This man can write a song . . . and sing it as well.
on January 25, 2005
I attended a friend's birthday party in NYC in Nov. The guests were given gift bags, and one of the items included a CD, made by the honoree, which included songs by various artists. This was the first time I had ever heard this voice. It was one of the tracks on said CD, and it was "A Foolish Love". I liked it so much I called my friend to ask who the artist was. This was my introduction to Rufus Wainwright's work. I went out and purchased Want One, and I was so thankful, for one, to hear something so beautifully written and original. I find his music thought provoking on many levels, but then I just sit back and enjoy the ride. I have listened over and over, and each time I find myself on a wonderful journey. My guess is that anyone who appreciates music will find this a welcome, magical and masterfully made ride if they will just be willing to let themselves go with it. Agnus Dei, Go or Go Ahead, The Art Teacher, Vicious World, I Don't Know What it Is. I don't mean to merely give a track list, but for me, there's hardly a track I don't enjoy, over and over. Luscious layered harmonies. Or just voice and piano. I love it all. So, of course, I now have his earlier albums, and it's easy to see how he has grown as an artist. Listening to some older songs, like "Baby", for one example, how could anyone not be moved? I'm not necessarily referring exclusively to the lyrics, but just listen to the heartfelt piano. And it's not all maudlin, as some have said. He comes back with "Beauty Mark", and you can't help but love it. The resolution of each song is, more often than not, very optimistic and hopeful. I'm just thankful to Rufus Wainwright for providing something new worth listening to. I am a lover of many kinds of music, and Want One and Two are by far the best new music I have heard and enjoyed in a very long time. Great things will be coming to him, I believe. I can't wait for more.
on April 4, 1999
Romantic, tragic, lush, beautiful. All words that come to mind every time I pop the self-titled debut, masterfully recorded by Rufus Wainwright (1998), into my CD player. He is a new face on the music scene, but his lazily poetic voice brings to life songs which tell the tale of a man who has definitly payed his dues in love and life. In songs such as, Beauty mark, April Fools and Mill Brook, Rufus lifts you up with playful beats and an up tempo. However, with songs such as In My Arms, Barcelona and Baby, he pulls you down to the depths of the tragic opera of chance, change and heartache. This is a brilliant collaboration of music. It is far enough from the main stream, gen-X, cookie cutter music that has been produced in this decade. but, not so far that it doesn't lack the connection to the same pit falls and triumph that this generation knows all too well. If remarkable talent is what causes a star to rise..Rufus Wainwright is the next big thing! And if you dig this CD, go see him in concert...these tunes sound even better live!
on July 22, 2003
In the late 90's, people only knew Mr. Wainwright for "Instant Pleasure"; a rather shallow pop selection about the joys of loveless sex. Soon after, Wainwright released his first album and prooved that he was capable of producing something much greater. His self titled debut is a collection of cleverly told stories, expressed with unique and enjoyable music.
The tracks "Foolish Love" and "Baby" are my favorites. They are cleverly orchestrated, well-executed gems on this album. Other stars include "April Fools", "Damned Ladies", "Millbrook" and "Danny Boy".
There are 2 reasons that I gave this release 4 stars instead of 5. The first is the album's relatively non cohesive nature. While most are good songs, they don't seem to relate to one another in the way that I believe a 5 star album should. I had a problem finding a prevelant underlying theme in all the selections. Second, some of the tracks are, in my opinion, downright poor, "Imaginary Love" being the primary culpret. Wainright's voice on this selection is whiny and the lyrics/music are simply unmemorable. Additionally I was not a large fan of the song "Barcelona". In this track, Wainwright's tendancy to be mellow is taken to a downright dull extreme.
However, the strong tracks on this album (especially "Foolish Love") make it, in my opinion, a very strong release from a very talented artist.