Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
When I first heard Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World” from his amazing Want One, I had to keep playing it over and over again because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. That song is immediately funny, smart, witty, and, dare I say it, jaunty. All of Want One had me at the edge of my seat. Wainwright has a couple more albums under his belt now, and his latest, the self-produced Release the Stars, is a worthy addition to his work.
There is the immediate fear that Rufus Wainwright producing Rufus Wainwright will be over the top, sentimental, self-conscious, and self-amused. Luckily, each and every song in Release the Stars is able to cavort with the edge without tumbling over. That said, it is easy to hate this CD for the first few rotations. One feels as though there is a single twelve-part song being reeled out here; however, over time, the songs break away from each other to show their own dimensions and sensibilities.
Of special note is the haunting “Leaving for Paris No. 2.” Just piano, bass, and Wainwright’s vocals delivering a letter, no, a sticky note, explaining the title. Simple without being simplistic, the song resonates with deep emotion and thoughtfulness. Every line is a compact gem: “And when I get there, I will lose the ring you gave me.” See? Compact, gemlike. Also, the final track, “Release the Stars,” is a finale in every sense of the word. It sounds as though Wainwright is beginning to gather his Broadway show. I’ll bet he wore high heels and a diamond-studded tiara in the studio while belting out, “Didn’t you know that old Hollywood is over? So why not just release the gates and let them all come out. Remember that without them there would be no Paramount.” It ain’t Sinatra, but it sure is Minnelli, and Wainwright makes it work.
If you are a Rufus Wainwright fan, then you will neither be surprised nor disappointed by Release the Stars. If this is your first contact with the son of the equally fascinating Loudon Wainwright III, you’ll want to quickly get back to the basics with Poses and Want One and Want Two; those CDs are the primers for this new polished work.