Rufus Wainwright – Unfollow the Rules
This is the 46-year-old crooner’s ninth album of original material and it comes eight years after his last release, the Mark Ronson-produced Out of the Game. Ahead of its slated release in April, Wainwright described a wish “to emulate the greats of yore whose second acts produced their greatest work”, citing Leonard Cohen’s The Future and Paul Simon’s Graceland as inspiration. It’s a worthy ambition, and one can hear how contentment has mellowed him. He is now settled into happy domesticity with his husband and young daughter.
The delayed album is full of lush grandeur and instrumentation. Veteran producer Mitchell Froom, who has worked with Roy Orbison and Tracy Chapman, amongst many others, has created a sound that complements Wainwright’s cinematic gravitas and swooping earnestness. His tenor has improved with age, becoming richer and more expressive.
It’s a heartfelt confection. On Peaceful Afternoon, he addresses his husband, as he “pray[s] that your face is the last I see” against strumming folk guitars. On the one-minute-52-second piano ballad My Little You, he addresses his daughter, in one of the most effective songs on the album: “Daddy putting on his makeup and wearing black feathers.” It has a lilting tune and is short but sweet. Damsel in Distress pays homage to Joni Mitchell, with reverberating folk guitar.
Early Morning Madness captures the creeping unease of a hangover with sci-fi sonic effects and sliding guitar and piano, building in an off-kilter sway. The tongue-in-cheek You Ain’t Big (“You ain’t big unless you’re big in Alabama… You ain’t big if you’re small in Texas”) jaunts across the ears. Hatred crashes itself out of the stereo like thunder and lightning.
The album sounds like a soundtrack to a film happening in Wainwright’s head. While its world and aesthetic are fully formed, it feels like the songwriting can’t quite match the ambition. The tunes are slight and meandering and tend to merge. Wainwright’s distinctive voice is sophisticated musical theatre and means that it is one-note in its smooth delivery. It’s a great note, but one note nonetheless.
Photo: Tony Hauser
Unfollow the Rules is released on 10th July 2020. For further information or to order the album visit Rufus Wainwright’s website here.
Listen to My Little You here: