Toronto
2 min

Rock opera queen

Romantic emotional turmoil

I WANT WANT 1. Rufus Wainwright's third album is his best yet. Credit: Xtra files

On the classic1966 Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, a young emotionally broken Brian Wilson achingly sang, “I know there’s an answer/ I know now, but I have to find it by myself.” With major depression, drug addiction, a visit to Hazelden treatment centre and turning 30 behind him, Rufus Wainwright looks to himself and Brian Wilson for inspiration on his glorious third album Want 1.



The frustration, romanticism, confusion and emotional turmoil of drugs and family abound. Although Wainwright has a Cole Porter/Morrissey wit, he’s a lot more fun in the dark.



The first half of this 14-track disc is more eclectic than the straightforward, moody second half; both halves are equally good. It starts with swirling Beach Boy harmonies as Wainwright sings, “Men reading fashion magazines/ Oh what a world it seems we live in/ Straight men (beat), Oh what a world we live in.” Even Ravel’s Bolero makes an ominous appearance. It’s very funny.



Producer Marius deVries keeps every song grand and lush, simple and pure. Strings, electric beats, piano and heavy guitars abound. The key instrument is the voice of Wainwright’s sister Martha, who cradles her brother with her angelic life-affirming vocals on almost every track. She’s as important here as Emmylou Harris was on Bob Dylan’s Desire.



Four tracks really stand out emotionally and technically. “Movies Of Myself” has the urgency of The Smiths’ “Panic,” The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” with Stereolab’s repetitive beats – it rocks! “Go Or Go Ahead” is a six- and-a-half minute orgasmic rock classic in which Wainwright cries, “What has happened to love?” All the elements come together and Wainwright’s vocals are so heartfelt and strong; he soars here.



He gets a little Cio Cio San on “Vibrate,” a witty ditty where our Rufus proclaims, “I tried to dance Britney Spears/ I guess I’m getting on in years.” Violins caress every sad pining line.



Daddy Loudon Wainwright III does not appear but his presence is felt on the devastating last track “Dinner At Eight.” Ever had major father issues? When your father runs out on the family, you pursue the same career, become competitive. What do you do? If you’re Rufus you write a painful, heart- wrenching, cathartic masterpiece, with lines like, “No matter how strong/ I’m gonna take you down with one small stone,” or, “But why is it so/ That I’ve always been the one who must go… When in fact you were the one/ Long ago…. in the drifting white snow/ Who left me.” Ouch!



This album is so full of real emotion – all about the quest for true love. It breaks your heart one minute and makes you laugh the next. It’s a classic. The musicianship is tight and right. Levon Helm (The Band) on drums, guitarist Charlie Sexton, Linda Thompson and many others. Even mom Kate shows up with banjo and accordion on the song “14th Street.”



Want 1 is the first release of a two-volume set. Want 2 will apparently be “more daunting, operatic and weird.” I’m there!



WANT 1.

Rufus Wainwright.

Dreamworks. $17.99.