Rufus Wainwright “Bitter Tears” Album Review

American-Canadian singer and composer Rufus Wainwright has released his latest album, “Out of the Game.” Known for his slow, emotionally-driven tracks, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” and “Poses,” Wainwright has continued to blur genres between operatic pop, baroque pop and alternative rock. This new album features eccentric melodies like his earlier album, “All Days Are Nights: Song For Lulu” (2010), but it also bends into a more quirky charm despite its often lonely themes. Influenced by opera, Elton John and Harry Nilsson, Wainwright blends these styles into something purely his own. As a result, “Out of the Game” retains Wainwright’s signature sulky voice paired with light melodies, but also holds its own ground by introducing a wider selection of instruments.

The album as a whole is lyrically wistful, with loneliness being a prevalent theme in many of the tracks. In “Welcome to the Ball,” Wainwright sings, “I will never know the way it feels to be just anyone.” Similarly, in the album’s namesake track he croons, “I’m looking for something, can’t be found on the main drain.” And yet, the music is not overpowered by this saddened tone. Somehow, Wainwright manages to pair the words with an upbeat melody such as in “Out of the Game” where background singers echo his bittersweet lyrics, “suckers, does your mamma know what you’re doing?” Also, in “Jericho” there is a jazzy trumpet that offsets the subject of romantic difficulties in the track.

The multitude of instruments on this new album is also new territory for Wainwright, who has primarily used piano, guitar and the occasional violin. In “Montauk,” for example, a harp is featured. Unfortunately in the same song, the addition of cymbals overwhelms the delicacy of the sound, marring the piece as a whole. The final song, “Candles,” brings in a bagpipe for the final minute. But due to the fact that this track is nearly eight minutes long and relatively slow, it fails to be a memorable conclusion. As a result, the instrumental diversity was both strengthening and damaging to this album.

Some tracks also coped better with the mesh of genres than others. “Bitter Tears” has a light and quick rhythm paired with melancholy lyrics consistent with the other tracks, “Choking on my bitter tears, only thing I’d own fears you.” Wainwright has a talent highlighting everyday imagery and making it something romantic and unique. Such is the case in “Respectable Dive,” a slow jazzy number that employs images of cards and kitchen notes to illustrate a struggling relationship. “Perfect Man” also has a good combination of drums, guitar and Wainwright singing with background vocals of his sister, “I’m doing all that I can making all the roses bloom in unison.” However, in the case of “Montauk,” there is too much repetition in the Wainwright’s tone as he relates a dry and odd-sounding narrative about fathers.

With a variety of instruments, Wainwright is able to capture a number of emotions and themes of loneliness, imperfect love and even hope. Though it dwells on sad emotions, “Bitter Tears” ends with “I’m just discussing with the morning. It’s going to be okay.” This hopeful and reassuring shift adds more complexity to the album as a whole. Also, in “Song of You,” the track seems to teeter on the edge of cliché, but manages to redeem itself with lines like “there are many melodies to choose from but there’s only one of you.”

In all, “Out of the Game” maintains Wainwright’s signature emotional style and melody while demonstrating new quirks that clearly keep him in the game.

3.5 stars

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