California Literary Review

When You See Sparks

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Album Review: Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game

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May 7th, 2012 at 4:52 am

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Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game

Artist: Rufus Wainwright

Album: Out of the Game

CLR Rating: ★★★☆☆

Out of the Game, Rufus Wainwright’s seventh studio album, is perhaps his most approachable collection of songs yet. Much of the album is bathed in the golden nostalgic glow of 1970s and early 80s soft rock.

Throughout the album there is the soft electric presence of the synthesizer and other mechanical distortions that ebb and flow – sometimes effectively, and sometimes a bit distractingly. “Bitter Tears” in particular is a song that sits at an electric midway point; if the synthetic instrumentation had been pushed to be a bit sharper or harder, or conversely lessened, it might feel a bit more interesting, but as it is the instruments feel as if they’re getting in the way of the melody. “Perfect Man” uses the artificiality of the synthesizer to better effect, letting the instrument act as a comfortable counterpoint that doesn’t overwhelm the song itself. It helps that the song has a very mild 70s funk intro which – while it progresses into a kind of hazy yesteryear pop rock – tames the electric current running through it somewhat.

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The album is more of a grower than a shower; the songs feel primarily even upon a first quick listen – without many standout singles to cling to – with a few exceptions. “Montauk” is a song about accepting the sexual orientation of family members, in this instance two gay fathers. The song tells its story with a blend of humor and warmth that comes across as sincere and frankly touching. With fevered piano to underscore it, Wainwright’s vocals are prominent and allowed to shine – occasionally in a carnivalesque, sing-song way that wonderfully compliments the subject matter, with the synthetic instrumentation kept to a dull roar.

“Respectable Dive” is a gentle waltz, a solemn love song with a mainstream country pop influence. A romantically distorted guitar follows the vocals as Rufus tells a story about old love reunited. The melody is pretty, and can easily be envisaged as the soundtrack for the location he sings about.

“Song of You” is not a typically representative song of the album, but lets Wainwright’s vocals progress gradually and beautifully across the piece while a 1950s-esque slow dance rhythm keeps the time. Similarly “Candles” is a gradually building construct that lets his voice lead across interesting musical sidestreets, meandering into a squeezebox and snare drum that give a surprisingly military or nautical impression.

While at times difficult to feel an immediate affinity with Out of the Game, the music featured here is certainly approachable for fans and listeners who have an affectionate place in their hearts for the soft rock of the 1970s and early 1980s. The stories are lyrically well-written, the music gentle – a soothing accompaniment for the traveler within.

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