'Release The Stars' has to be one of the releases of the year…
Chris Jones 2007
Martha’s older brother returns with the melodrama and operatics reined in but with his writing and arranging skills intact and enhanced. That’s not to say that the intervening period since Want Two hasn’t been filled with flamboyance. Announcing to the world that he’s writing an opera 'based' on Maria Callas and staging a note-for-note recreation of Judy Garland’s legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall concert certainly bumped up his already well-publicised sexuality. But any worries that he’s painting himself into a rather pink corner are immediately swept away by Release The Stars. The boy is simply, fabulously and stunningly talented.
And being swept away is essentially what listening to Rufus Wainwright is like. All the usual elements are here. The louche, barely-formed vowels, the smatterings of operatic chorus and German lied and the way with a song’s dynamics that are somewhat akin to a switchback ride: Swooping climaxes and gorgeous choruses aplenty. But here Rufus returns to Want One’s more digestible and commercial format.
It’s significant that the man who’s now been through rehab and grown up in public now takes charge of the production duties (with executive help from Neil Tennant). There’s a welcome maturity here in both his choice of cohorts (sister Martha, Marius de Vries and Teddy Thompson along with his dad, Richard, on guitar) and his lyrical subjects. There’s still the chronicling of drugs and debauchery (“Sans Souci”, “Between My Legs” ) or love’s foibles and frustrations (“Tiergarden”, “Rules and Regulations” and “Do I Disappoint You”) but his wry humour now packs a greater universality.
Also tellingly Release…features his first pointedly political song in “Going To A Town”, which responds to the failings of his adopted homeland. However this is Rufus Wainwright, not the Dead Kennedys, and when he sings ‘I’m so tired of America’, it’s more ennui than ire that drives his muse.
The highlight in a field of jewels is the pairing of the achingly melancholic “I’m Not Ready For Love” followed by "Slideshow"; a track that leaves you breathless, ending with the more optimistic couplet: 'Do I love you? Yes I do...'. His sense of European classical tradition lifts anything out of the ordinary, and yet there’s enough pop-tinged variety here to keep the undeniable campness from getting too heavy. Release The Stars has to be one of the releases of the year…