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Rufus Wainwright House of Rufus Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Lavish set covering the man’s career to date, packed with startling rarities.

Martin Aston 2011

Not for Rufus the typical annotated reissue package, compiled a respectable time after the originals first appeared. House of Rufus is more a one-stop career shop, the ultimate extravaganza for the besotted collector. Because it’s a given no Rufus virgin will jump into bed with a 19-disc, 193-track box set, no matter how seductive the red velvet packaging and 90-page hardback (no sniggering, please) book containing handwritten lyrics, art prints and interview gush with the likes of sister Martha and Pet Shopper pal Neil Tennant. So what awaits the committed Rufus lover after all that foreplay?

Setting aside the six studio albums (from 1998’s Rufus Wainwright to 2010’s All Days Are Night: Songs for Lulu, all here with a handful of additions), which are notable for their increasing lavish production frills and ambition, the three live albums and the six DVDs (from live footage to documentary fare), it’s best to spotlight the four bonus albums, because these are the revelations. Take the first, the vocal/piano demos that won Rufus his initial record deal. His tremulous delivery is operatic by comparison to the rock/pop pack but Rufus didn’t always come on like he was reinventing the term ‘rococo’. Among the demos are Get Out Of Town and Sweet Repose, unreleased stunners that betray his show tune soul.

Rufus Rarities is similarly pared back, as if he doesn’t usually want to be seen without full slap. The unreleased cover of folk-blues standard St James Infirmary, underpinned by just acoustic guitar and banjo, and the simply strummed Patience Is a Virtue is the Rufus nobody dreamt existed. Close behind is the barroom savvy of (rare Japanese bonus track) A Bit of You. Even the Rufus at the Movies CD eschews orchestral luxury, none more so than his version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah from Shrek. Hearing him tackle He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (from Zoolander) and not smother it to death is startling.

That leaves the Family and Friends CD. The Wainwright/McGarrigle clan dominate but there’s room for Teddy Thompson and Antony Hegarty tracks where Rufus was the guest. Time and time again, with space and constraint, he shines. And even when he soars, to tear-pricking effect on David Byrne’s Au Fond Du Temple Saint, there’s a direct connection at heart. Rufus in rococo mode is a wonder to behold, but if there’s a place to head after the opera writing and red velvet packaging, it’s right here.

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