x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rufus Wainwright's Out of the Game is decent, if patchy

Billed as a wholehearted surrender to glitzy, chart-bound pop, the album rarely stays in the shallows.

Rufus Wainwright
Out of the Game
Polydor
***

"There's still a spark in me that would like to conquer the [pop] charts in an old school manner," Rufus Wainwright told this writer in an interview last year. Overseen by the sometime Adele and Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, Out of the Game is reportedly Wainwright's attempt to do so.

While the 1970s output of stars such as Elton John and Queen is Wainwright's's professed touchstone here, the hookey synth-pop song Bitter Tears is actually closer to late-period Abba, while Welcome to the Ball, dedicated to Wainwright's baby daughter Viva, packs perky, show tune-like brass.

So far, so Wainwright and his dressing-up box you might think, but lyrically speaking the album sees the singer broach new ground. Its creamy-sounding title track reads like a vow of fidelity, while Montauk, built on a classical-sounding vocal melody, is both touching and funny, with Wainwright imagining Viva visiting him many years hence. "Don't worry - I know you'll have to go," he sings at one point, already envisioning the hurt of the empty nest.

Wainwright's extended family is never far away, however, and his father Loudon, sister Martha, and aunt Anna McGarrigle all appear on the album's closer, Candles. An acoustic guitar and accordion-led lament for Wainwright's late mother, the folk singer Kate McGarrigle, it's a slow-meandering gem that cedes to plaintive bagpipes.

Out of the Game is a decent, if slightly patchy album. It also seems a tad confused in its intent. Billed as a wholehearted surrender to glitzy, chart-bound pop, it rarely stays in the shallows. Even with his feather boa on, Wainwright is drawn to poignancy.