Canadian songsmith’s Mark Ronson-produced seventh is a heavenly homage to 70s pop.
Rob Hughes 2012
Never judge an album by its cover. On the outside at least, everything seems to suggest that this is the Rufus Wainwright we’ve come to know: the strutting peacock in his manor, a pink-jacketed hedonist with cane in hand, blithely inspecting his fingernails. But the truth is elsewhere. Out of the Game, created with go-to producer Mark Ronson, largely dispenses with the lush orchestral backings and sumptuous surrounds of much of his previous work. Instead it’s a record driven by soul grooves, classic American R&B and, more overtly, 70s pop.
There’s certainly much less of the symphonic bombast that occasionally hampered 2007’s Release the Stars. And while it’s much fuller than his last album, 2010’s All Days Are Nights, Out of the Game is very much a master class in restraint. Rather than straining for the big choruses, here Wainwright intones over smooth backings, horns and the gospel harmonies of Brooklyn soul-stirrers The Dap-Kings.
Barbara, a tribute to his publicist and manager, carries the languid feel of Californian MOR, while Jericho is a gorgeous funk ballad, all spongy bass and warm brass. Rashida features a little sax, squally guitar and the kind of piano line served up by Mike Garson on Aladdin Sane, the end result a weightless mix of Bowie and Queen.
Aside from Ronson, Wainwright’s also joined by, amongst others, his sister Martha, Sean Lennon, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. It all makes for some intriguing tangents. Respectable Dive, for instance, finds him settling into a slow country shuffle, some twangy guitar kicking up the dust. Bitter Tears somehow manages to transpose classical chamber music onto nimble 70s disco, the whole thing sounding like an Elizabethan shindig under a giant glitterball.
There’s rumination aplenty too. The baleful acoustic rhythm of Sometimes You Need finds Wainwright in reflective mode, singing of making it through the dark and finding succour in the company of a stranger. Candles is seven-plus minutes of piano-led balladry with hushed chorals and a smattering of accordion that serves as a requiem for his late mother, Kate McGarrigle. Much like Out of the Game as a whole, it’s very special indeed.