Saturday, 20 September 2003

Album Review: Want One

Rufus Wainwright’s previous albums have flitted between almost every genre of music from pop to cabaret to folk to opera. This, coupled with his unique voice, means that you will either love or hate his work. While impressed with his two previous albums, I've unashamedly fallen in love with his latest effort.

Want One is a staggeringly ambitious album with an emotional complexity rarely seen in music; a timeless masterpiece which deserves a place in the history books as one of the greatest albums ever made.

The album’s opening track, Oh What A World is a reinterpretation of Ravel’s Bolero. Wainwright’s sense of humour is highlighted in amongst the soaring strings and pounding drums as he quips, “Men reading fashion magazines / Oh what a world it seems we live in / Straight men.” The humour, decadence and flamboyance combine to make this perhaps the definitive Wainwright track.

I Don’t Know What It Is is the most unashamed pop song on the album. The theme of the track is being lost and not knowing it, something that probably emerges from the demons that Wainwright has had to battle since 2001’s Poses. The melody is simple yet powerful and the arrangement is left relatively uncluttered, save for some refined strings and horns which emerge in the second chorus. It is frankly, stunning.

Where I Don’t Know What It Is is the most poppy song on the album so Movies Of Myself is the most immediately appealing. It marks the album’s energetic peak. The track is propelled by a driving drumbeat, an acoustic guitar and the standard Wainwright four-part harmony. Here Wainwright admonishes a lover for fleeing from commitment (“Start giving me something, a love that is longer than a day / Start making my heart sing something that it doesn’t want to say”). Elsewhere Beautiful Child is an infectious Afro-Latin rave about redemption and the glories of growing old. For those concerned that Wainwright’s passion for theatre has waned, fear not; both album closer Dinner At Eight (an open letter to his father Loudon Wainwright III) and the riotous honky tonk session that is 14th Street would befit the most memorable musicals.

Vibrate provides a brief moment of levity as Wainwright jokes about his mobile phone never ringing, electroclash karaoke and Britney Spears. It’s inclusion on the album is a little at odds with much of the material here and on the one hand it may considered to be the one track which prevents Want One being truly timeless; on the other, it is a lavish description of the embellishments of modern living. Meanwhile,11:11 has Wainwright offer a fitting tribute to the 9/11 disaster.

While the album is of incredibly high quality throughout, its zenith is reached on track six with the utterly majestic Go Or Go Ahead. It's a moment of sheer song writing genius and one of the greatest pop songs written in the last decade. It is a hushed acoustic number that doesn’t play its hand until the two and a half minute mark, when it erupts into a grand epic of charged guitars and a near literal Greek chorus. Wainwright’s towering vocal charges the track with yet more power as he spouts tales of mythology (“But Medusa kiss me and crucify / This unholy notion of the mythic power of love.”).

Rarely does an album as magical as this appear on the shelves of music stores. Wainwright’s previous albums (as well as his superior lineage) suggested that he had the capability of making one such album and with Want One he does just that. Want One is an absolute masterpiece. Its sister album Want Two is due next year and if it is anything like its elder sibling it will be entirely spellbinding.

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