Pop opera 

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The only grandiose ambition he won't cop to

The cover of Rufus Wainwright's Want Two looks strikingly similar to last year's Want One, except for a crucial difference. On Want One, Wainwright depicted himself as the heroic knight in armor, while on Want Two he's the damsel in distress. That's Wainwright's duality for you: He wants to be both Rapunzel and the gallant prince who rescues her; he wants to be both a pop star and the composer of the world's greatest opera; at one moment, he'll pinch a passage from Bizet or Ravel, and in the next he'll drop a quote from the Three's Company theme.

Want Two isn't as consistent or cohesive as Want One. It feels like a collection of distinct songs, where that album possessed a clear dramatic arc. But Want Two presents the extremes of Wainwright's musical personality more forcefully than anything he's done before. The lilting "Peach Tree" and aching "Memphis Skyline" are Wainwright at his romantic best. "Waiting For A Dream" is full-blown, swirling psychedelia, while "The One You Love" is choppy guitar-pop, and "Little Sister" is a flowery, orchestral art song in the manner of Van Dyke Parks.

CD Spotlight

Want two
Rufus Wainwright
(Geffen Records)
Wainwright has described Want Two as material that was a little too outré for Want One, and that's certainly true of the disc's bookend tracks "Agnus Dei" and "Old Whore's Diet": long, repetitious, slow-building drones with operatic flourishes. The album's two best songs, though, push the envelope more because of what they say than what they sound like. "The Art Teacher" casts Wainwright not as a gay man, but a straight woman ("in this uniformish pant-suit sort of thing"), recalling a childhood crush that never waned. "Gay Messiah" takes direct aim at red-state America, promising/warning that a queer savior is on his way: "He will then be reborn/from 1970s porn/wearing tube socks with style/and such an innocent smile."

Wainwright is quick to assert - in quite graphic terms - that he won't be that messiah. It's just about the only grandiose ambition he won't cop to.

By Gilbert Garcia



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