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Rufus Wainwright - Release The Stars

Rufus Wainwright, Release The Stars

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RUFUS Wainwright has long been something of a critics’ darling. About the time of the release of his last album, Want Two in 2005 he was being hailed as “the chosen one”.

While he is generally considered to be one of the most respected and innovative performers of his generation.

His music is intricately layered, intelligently composed and very distinct – but it’s not always easy to warm to. Comparisons with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke are particularly apt vocally.

Certainly, Wainwright has no intention of pandering to the mass music buying public. His music could never be described as throwaway, or even a guilty pleasure.

Rather, it requires a lot of listening and almost always prompts a lot of thought. Release The Stars, his fifth album, is typical of what to expect and is widely predicted to become one of the best reviewed LPs of 2007.

It marks the first that Rufus has produced things himself, although it boasts Neil Tennant as an executive producer and long-time collaborators Marius de Vries and Andy Bradfield on mixing detail.

It also comes with a number of special guest appearances from the likes of guitarist Richard Thompson, Joan As Police Woman crooner Joan Wasser, actress Sîan Phillips, Tennant himself, sister Martha and Teddy Thompson.

The songs, as ever, range from the meticulously layered and richly textured to the more intimate and stripped down.

In truth, Wainwright is better when letting himself go a little. There’s a gulf between the out and out enjoyment of songs like Between My Legs and the ponderous, borderline pretentious likes of Tulsa.

I’m all for musical ambition and intelligent layering but on tracks like Tulsa the mix of strained vocals, brooding lyrics and mini-operatic instrumentation tends to grate. And that’s probably part of the problem I have with listening to Wainwright’s albums as a complete package. They delight one minute and frustrate the next.

Given the hype surrounding Release The Stars, perhaps the frustration, for me, is even greater.

On tracks like the rousing, politically loaded Going To A Town, there’s a genuine sense that Wainwright is someone quite special. Its composition is first rate, its lyrics wonderfully emotive. You have to listen to it.

Likewise, Do I Disappoint You, the album opener, that demonstrates Wainwright’s ability to deliver a haunting ache that still comes wrapped in musical beauty.

The aforementioned Between My Legs is another favourite, a track where Wainwright has obviously thrown off the shackles and decided to rock out a little. It still contains a distinct quality about it – but it’s fun and the album could use a little more of it.

But with songs like Nobody’s Off The Hook and Tulsa the album veers off course and threatens to become a turn-off.

Leaving For Paris No.2 is another ponderous effort that can really turn your mood if you’re not careful – a different kind of melancholy to the somewhat more enchanting Not Ready To Love.

Set against a cinema soundtrack, some of these songs might work better but, in my opinion, there are a number of tracks on the album that don’t stand up on their own.

I’ll probably be criticised for not hailing Wainwright’s return as all-conquering but, for me, Release The Stars is an interesting effort that gives rise to some excellent highs but also some crushing, mood-altering lows.

Download picks: Going To Town, Between My Legs, Rules And Regulations, Not Ready To Love, Sanssouci

Track listing:

  1. Do I Disappoint You
  2. Going To A Town
  3. Tiergarten
  4. Nobody’s Off The Hook
  5. Between My Legs
  6. Rules And Regulations
  7. Not Ready To Love
  8. Slideshow
  9. Tulsa
  10. Leaving For Paris No. 2
  11. Sanssouci
  12. Release The Stars / Non-Musical Silence
  13. Do I Disappoint You [Instrumental]