Are the beloved musicians Jack White and Rufus Wainwright the most overrated of the past decade?
What's with the acclaim heaped on Jack White and Rufus Wainwright?
Jack White, the American musician formerly of The White Stripes, and Rufus Wainwright, the Canadian crooner, enjoy the kind of critical reverence and love usually reserved for the likes of Nelson Mandela and little fluffy kittens. But we just don't get it. So, as they both release new albums today, here's why we think White and Wainwright are the two most overrated artists of the past decade.
White, real name Gillis, was in a garage-blues band called The White Stripes. They became famous for being a duo that made a lot of noise. This may have been partially attributable to the fact that White's ex-wife, Meg, was the band's drummer. She often sounded like a kid playing with her mum's kitchen utensils. They struck it lucky when White managed to write a good song, Seven Nation Army, which has somehow managed to sustain an entire career.
Although White likes to cast himself as some kind of lightning rod for the spirits of old bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Blind Wille McTell, sartorially he has more in common with a suburban Goth at an indie disco. Even more frighteningly, he's starting to closely resemble Robert Smith from The Cure. White is 36. Robert Smith is 52.
According to some critics, White supposedly has an authentic blues holler. To rather less easily pleased ears, White's strangulated yelp sounds like the product of a stubbed toe on the bathroom door in the middle of the night. Admittedly, the man can play guitar rather well, but so can Cliff Richard. And as for White's songwriting chops, well let's just say he has the good taste to be, er, influenced by some fine bands. His new single, Sixteen Saltines, for example, has a lead guitar riff that shares many similarities with the one in U-Mass by the seminal American band, Pixies. His debut solo album, Blunderbuss, unfortunately sounds exactly like his work with the bands he formed while on leave from the now defunct The White Stripes – The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. A bloodless, meandering exercise in classic rock for beardy muso bores and people who append notes to the necks of their vintage "axes".
Married the British model Karen Elson in 2005. Took their honeymoon on the Amazon. Celebrated their divorce last year with a party. Two children, Scarlett and Henry. Only surprise? Neither of them is called Blind Willie (maybe they saved that for the cat).
What the critics say
The UK music magazine Mojo greeted White's album Blunderbuss with a glowing five-star review, saying: "Jack White can change, change for the better and be the ideal companion for the journey up ahead. He just needs some space."
What they should be saying
Jack White needs to write another half-decent tune.
Wainwright has an impeccable background – the child of the folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, he was born to be a critics' favourite.
He grew to love opera as a teenager, so his tendency in later years to make overwrought, tuneless music about nothing in particular was perhaps to be expected. His svelte figure, however, must have disappointed him.
Wainwright, 38, is famously vain, so perhaps wouldn't welcome our suggestion that he looks like a direct cross of the Tottenham Hotspur footballer, Scott Parker, and the comedian Sean Hughes. He would obviously rather be compared to a Wilde but, given his hamster cheeks, he'll have to settle for Kim rather than Oscar.
Wainwright has a deep love of opera and the oeuvre of Judy Garland. Consequently, most of his albums have been so thoroughly soused in melodrama and camp they make an episode of Glee look like a Clint Eastwood Western. Wainwright is no fan of the "less is more" school of thought, either.
Listening to most of his albums, but especially 2007's Release the Stars, involves dodging flying kitchen sinks and stray lederhosen, as the Rufester (as he prefers not to be called) chucks absolutely everything at his limp, melody-free compositions in an effort to beef them up.
Then there's his voice. Holy mackerel, that voice. His new album, Out of the Game, like nearly every Wainwright album, is front-loaded with two moderately tuneful tracks that don't strain his vocals too much. But, by the time you reach the teeth-grindingly awful schlock of Welcome to the Ball, his one-note mewling will have you hurling the remote at your stereo in an attempt to stop the pain. His droning voice is to versatility and range as whales are to rock-climbing and skateboarding.
Wainwright apparently plans to marry his long-term fiancé, Jorn Weisbrodt, in August in Long Island. Rumours that Wainwright plans to sing his wedding vows have led to a run on noise-cancelling headphones in the Long Island area.
What the critics say
The Observer called Release the Stars, "complex, melodramatic, ambitious, vain, beautiful and frequently magnificent".
What they should be saying
"Oi, Wainwright, step away from that Judy Garland box set!"