Rufus Wainwright Triumphs With New Album

Posted by Greg on Jul 10, 2020 in Music |

Finally, it’s here. Originally slated to be released on April 24, Rufus Wainwright’s new album Unfollow the Rules is now finally released to the world. And damn, was it worth the wait. Produced alongside Mitchell Froom Unfollow the Rules is a winning slice of baroque pop that excels from start to finish.

Album opener “Trouble in Paradise” is a three-minute pop caper that begins with just vocal and drums before piano meanders its way into the mix. As anticipated, the entire thing is classic, ornate and elegant. Bolstered by a beautiful chorus and Wainwright’s effortless vocals, it is an immersive single and a sure sign that this album is going to deliver in every sense of the word.

The Froom effect is felt rather instantly on “Damsel in Distress,” a near five-minute winner that opens with jangly acoustic guitar before yielding to a more contemplative posture. Ostensibly a song about loneliness, “Damsel in Distress” marries Rufus’ towering vocals with supple strings and takes a rather straightforward song and turns it on its head in the final 90 seconds. Veering towards psych-pop at times, there’s something swirly and cylindrical about its final moments that make it worth revisiting long after it is finished.

Wainwright’s next effort is the near seven-minute title track, a song which opens similarly to “Trouble in Paradise.” Just Rufus and a piano. But not for long. Languidly the song moves along before bowing to a tower of cascading strings and a conclusion that is equal parts, titanic, marvelous and nothing short of stunning. Arguably, “Unfollow the Rules” features Wainwright’s best vocals to date. Not bad for someone nearing 50.

The album’s first half concludes with “You Ain’t Big” and “Romantically Man.” The former is a jazzy and playful dollop of filler that proves even when he’s just having a bit of fun he’s still way, way ahead of his contemporaries. In short, there’s Rufus and then there’s everyone else. Any attempt to poke holes in that statement is negated in the opening seconds of “Romantical Man.” Once again backed by an ornate bed of strings, “Romantical Man” is classic Rufus in every sense of the word.

The second act of Unfollow the Rules rises with the acoustic jangle of “Peaceful Afternoon,” a Laurel Canyon-esque number that veers slightly towards The Eagles. While it is a bit of a departure for Wainwright it is something he pulls off with aplomb. Credit Mitchell Froom or just an artist fully understanding who he is and what his limits are, but there is little to dislike about “Peaceful Afternoon.”

It would not be a Rufus Wainwright album without one truly despondent and melancholic offering and sure enough “Only the People That Love” wears that title well. Forlorn and weary from the very first notes, “Only the People That Love” actually struggles to stay interesting. That is until the final 45 seconds, when the song takes on a life of its own. Much like “You Ain’t Big,” he still finds winning moments on the songs that aren’t exactly reaching for the rafters.

In another creative experiment, he tackles synthesizers on the atmospheric “This One’s for the Ladies (That Lunge),” a twinkling and celestial effort that might be a throwaway, but also might be just the kind of tonic to survive another day of quarantining at home.

The proud parent of a nine-year-old daughter, Wainwright celebrates her with the two minute ditty “My Little You.” Featuring just Wainwright and a piano it is utterly gorgeous from the opening seconds and proves that he can do so much with so little. Sure it might be filler, but damn it it doesn’t make your heart burst.

The melancholic moments of “Only the People That Love” return in the show-stopping “Early Morning Madness.” Beginning faint and sedate, the song maneuvers in a way that is weary, funereal and hopeless. But as the song inches forward, Rufus once again raises his voice and carries them to the rafters. Second by second, “Early Morning Madness” dazzles with a cinematic scope and sweep that is nothing short of dazzling. Much like the title track, this is Rufus Wainwright at his absolute best, vocally, sonically and melodically. In short, it is darn near awe-inspiring.

Synths and strings envelop penultimate offering “Hatred” and the song is nothing short of breathtaking. Backed by a gospel choir in the final minute, this is another song that towers and triumphs and continues to distance Wainwright from all of his contemporaries.

Fittingly, Unfollow the Rules ends with “Alone Time” an intimate and revealing prayer about the importance of solitude. Whereas most of the album has been adorned in synths, strings, choirs and horns, “Alone Time” is just Rufus and his piano. Even though the veneer feels like something that might have been culled from Poses, the maturity and clarity at work here is quite evident.

So where does Unfollow the Rules fall in the Wainwright discography? Though it at times feels like a career best, there are moments where he draws back and gives in to something a bit self-indulgent, but even then, he’s still spinning a yarn that will be worth revisiting in the weeks and months to come. For now, let’s just celebrate another Rufus record and the many winning moments packed within. In a time when America needs one giant salve, Unfollow the Rules is here to be that very balm. And damn, it sure does deliver.


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