The thing I most love about Rufus Wainwright is that he’s in his early 30s and he’s totally an old-school gay. He’s an opera queen, flamboyant, wistful, over the top and bitchy. He’s influenced greatly by past gay icons and pop culture of yore. Grey Gardens, Judy Garland, Maria Callas and The Loud Family get mixed up in his songs of love, life and unhappiness. He’s every character from The Boys In The Band.
His latest CD, however, Release The Stars, just doesn’t hold my attention like his other albums. His previous release, 2004’s Want Two, was an astonishing piece of work. I couldn’t have loved it more with its grand orchestral production and seductive lyrics. Like the best operas, you were taken into a world of sorrow, beauty and drama, the conflicts of human interaction… love. It was also camp as could be. That’s what made it special.
Release The Stars has that clever Wainwright wordplay but the production by Wainwright and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant just doesn’t connect with the words. There’s too much going on. Every word seems to get its own cymbal crash, woodwind flourish or choral accompaniment. When the production is simplified, like on the song “Going To A Town”, it comes across as some awful Christopher Cross/Dan Fogelberg schmaltz.
“Between My Legs” is a good example of elements not coming together. Wainwright sounds kind of bored as he sings with unoriginal guitar riffs flying about. “Again, I’m afraid, of one thing/ Will I walk away from love knowing nothing,” he wails. “Wearing my heart between my legs?” Then, near the end, actress Sian Phillips (Livia from I Claudius) gives us some spokenword nonsense.
“Not Ready To Love” works. Wainwright just sings light and fluttery while slide guitars make eerie calls as if floating down from the heavens. “I’m not ready to love/ I’m not ready for peace/ I’m giving up the dove to the beast.”
Wainwright doesn’t seem to be as free and rejuvenated on this album as he did on Want Two. Confusion abounds on Release The Stars. It’s claustrophobic and, I hate to say it, boring.