Singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright has always had a flair for the experimental and theatrical. In his colorful career, he’s channeled Judy Garland, written film soundtracks and an opera, set Shakespeare sonnets to music, and performed live in a 17-foot-long cape. Now, Wainwright is pushing the envelope to the very limits with…a pop album??
That’s right; Out of the Game, Wainwright’s seventh studio release, is targeted directly at a mainstream audience. Produced by Mark Ronson (who brought you Amy Winehouse Back To Black), this record is hailed as Wainwright’s most commercially accessible project to date. Whether he’s just tired of appealing to a fringe audience, or maybe needs to sell more records (he does have a kid to feed, now, after all), Wainwright has adjusted his track from the margins to somewhere squarely in the middle.
Now, to clarify…when we say “pop,” we’re not talking about your tween-ager’s “pop”; more like your grandmother’s “pop.” As in, 1970’s pop. Think Barry Manilow, not Justin Bieber—except that Wainwright easily outshines both, musically speaking.
Also, don’t think of this as a “sellout” album (although some people definitely might). This is still very much Rufus Wainwright, with all his style and class, just tempered a bit for the mainstream. While a bit old fashioned, the arrangements are tasteful, the melodies singable. From the light R&B vibe on songs like “Jericho” to the hat-tips to doo-wop on “Rashida” and “Song of You”—enhanced by the presence of backup band the Dap-Kings—Out of the Game can be best described as just plain classy. And fans of Wainwright’s penchant for the theatrical will still have plenty to love, including the Broadway-esque “Montauk” and the closing, Celtic-flavored epic ballad “Candles,” complete with bagpipes at the end.
No doubt there will be some haters on this project, people who rail at anything bearing the “pop” label. But at the same time, I think the retro feel of this album will have a much wider appeal than just grandmother-fans of Barry Manilow; I think the coffeehouse crowd, for example, will get a real kick out of this record. Bottom line: with Out of the Game, Rufus Wainwright stands to gain many more fans than he loses. It’s a risky move, but it just might turn out to be the best move he’s ever made.
ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)