Listen Up: Wednesday, October 22, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Rufus Wainwright

Want One (Dreamworks)

By Jimmy Fowler

Not even Morrissey in his halcyon days had the nerve to pose as a sword-clutching knight asleep in an enchanted forest, presumably waiting for a prince’s kiss to stir him. Fans of singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright — a cult beguiled and conflicted by his classically informed musical chops, precocious lyrical charm, and abundant self-absorption — are treated to just such a scene when they take a gander at the cover of Wainwright’s latest, Want One. It merely confirms that the aspirations of Wainwright and producer Marcus Devries bypass the twisted piano-bar tunes of Weill, Newman, and Waits for something closer to Wagnerian proportions.

Want One simultaneously contains some of Wainwright’s most focused, moving work as well as harmonic excesses, perhaps dictated by heavy brass, string, and choral orchestrations shoehorned into a pop record. It’s all delivered in the vocalist’s Novocaine-lipped, keening style. “I Don’t Know What It Is” is a gorgeous expression of worldly confusion that gradually and gracefully introduces its thick layers of instrumental and vocal frosting, building drama with every step. “Movies of Myself” has a pounding rhythm section reminiscent of anything on The Smiths’ eponymous debut and a welcome sense of humor about the embarrassments of public intoxication (pretty-boy Wainwright wonders how many times he was caught “lookin’ like a hag”). The singer employs his lovely falsetto perfectly on “Vibrate,” a balletic ode in which he pledges that his “phone’s on vibrate for you.”

Unfortunately, much of the rest of Want One — especially “Go or Go Ahead,” marred by an unfortunate art-rock guitar solo, and the Fairport Convention-ish, over-arranged “Beautiful Child” — finds the artist’s songwriting limp and soggy from the flood of operatic studio trickery. Nobody this introspective should rely so heavily on borrowed theatrics to express himself.


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