this age of overproduced, poorly written pop it’s easy to forget what makes
listening to a pop song pure pleasure: the songwriting. To say that Rufus Wainwright
is one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation is not an overstatement.
The 27-year-old son of famed folk singer Loudon Wainwright III took six months
off last year after touring for his first album, got a cozy room in the Chelsea
Hotel, brought in a piano and started living the glamorous life. When I first
listened to Poses I was unsure whether I’d appreciate the moody meanderings
of this young, openly gay singer. Soon enough I was hooked.
music on Poses is lovely precisely because it’s the anti-Britney.
While the teen temptress is all about commercialism and overwrought, Vocoder-enhanced
melodies, Rufus Wainwright has personality and class. In his sweet, crooning voice
he sings about love and the perils of urban life, while making some prescient
observations about gay culture–or at least Chelsea boys–as in these
lines from the title track: "There’s never been such grave a matter/As
comparing our new brand name black sunglasses/All these poses, such beautiful
poses." An old-style romantic whose soulful voice and poetic lyrics are tempered
by a healthy dose of skepticism, Wainwright has put together a second album full
of guitar- and piano-laden tracks and catchy melodies.
first track, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," details the many trappings
of an excessive lifestyle. The first single, "California," is a folksy-sounding
tribute to the seedy truths hidden underneath the surface of our superficial,
plastic urban playgrounds. Wainwright’s reading of his father’s paean
to self-reliance, "One Man Guy," with vocal support from sister Martha
and fellow folk singer Teddy Thompson, takes on an entirely new meaning when it’s
sung by a gay man. Wainwright clearly fell in and out of love–or lust–while
living in New York, and he sings about yearning for salvation in "Rebel Prince."
The unbridled romanticism of "Tower of Learning" builds ever so slowly
to a climax that makes you want to crank up the volume on your Discman. It’s
proves that Wainwright has come into his own as a musician. It takes serious talent
and more than a little self-confidence to write these beautiful songs that elegantly
bare his soul and depict the contradictory impulses of gay life. The melodies
on Poses are heartbreakingly sad, yet sweetly optimistic. Wainwright’s
blessed with a voice that soars high or lingers longingly on certain notes, resonating
well after each song stops playing. Eschewing computerized vocal enhancement,
he’s added exotic instrumentation to the mix. Smooth, wry and ironically
detached, he pulls off a modern album with an old-fashioned feel that never becomes
self-consciously retro. All in all, it’s impossible to imagine a better sophomore
effort than Poses. Every song is good and more than half the tracks are
superb. Listening to him wax wistfully about loneliness or broken dreams is sheer
delight. One of the darker tracks, "In a Graveyard," closes with Wainwright
singing, "Then along the bending path away/I smiled in knowing I’d be
back one day." Any fan of great songwriting will eagerly await his return.