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Album Review

Rufus Wainwright, Want One

By Sarah R. Lehrer-graiwer, Contributing Writer

In Want One, Rufus Wainwright has composed an intricately wrought folly, in the very best sense of the word. It is a folly that towers over listener’s senses, one which both loses itself in its own madness and beauty. Wainwright’s ornate gestures are overtures to himself; courting his past, his influences and his loves—not the least of which is himself. This ode to himself is also a symptom of ecstatic and enviable madness—as he himself has said only half jokingly, “I think I’m slightly schizophrenic.”

Each track is a mélange of allusions and Wainwright’s personal and musical associations, combined to the point of excess until the listener feels submerged and almost drowned at moments. It can be hard to keep up sometimes. The lyrics by themselves are playful and light, yet littered with beautiful phrases and miniature revelations packaged in couplets. The opening of the second song reads: “I don’t know what it is / But you got to do it / I don’t know where to go / But you got to be there.” It seems to recall that eloquent and poignant verse from Jimi Hendrix—“I know what I want, but I just don’t know”—summing up in ten words the problem inherent in living a life of alertness in pursuit of self-knowledge. In a word, Wainwright manages to describe at points what it means to lead a life of logic, rationality and learning while embroiled in a mist of madness, illogical complications and all that the mind cannot grasp.

The musical allusions and references are sophisticated and precise inspirations that seem inevitable, considering Wainwright’s musical and emotional agenda. In “Oh What A World,” religious chanting evokes both eastern mantras and western choirs of monks humming in unison. Wainwright playfully mocks the song’s repetition by quoting what he has described as one of the most repetitive works in music, Ravel’s “Bolero.” The subsequent “I Don’t Know What It Is” references Three’s Company and Judy Garland, while “Vicious World” follows the blues tradition while drawing quotes from Wagner’s opera Die Meister Singer. “Pretty Things” both mimicks a Shubertian parlor moment and Cole Porter lyrics. “Go Or Go Ahead” even has passages in homage to Debussy’s children’s piece “Dr. Gratis at Parnassum.” The list goes on and on.

Any criticisms of Wainwright are drowned out by his grandiose orchestrations so beautiful and absurd. This album is a fairytale, lullaby, satire and love poem.

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