Monday, November 26, 2012

Out of the Game: Rufus Wainright

When exploring the work of a songwriter who is new to me, I look at several components of how he or she crafts music:
  • Melody:  Is this work truly original?  Why does the songwriter move the melody in the direction it's going?  Why do the notes go higher or lower?  Why do they go faster or slower? Is the melody beautiful?  If not, is it not supposed to be beautiful? Is the music alone telling a story, or is the music subordinate to the lyrics for that purpose? What is the musical range of the melody?  Is the difference between the low notes and the high notes huge, or is it minimal?
  • Lyrics:  Is there a compelling story?  Do I care? Am I paying attention to the words, or do they just seem to be an afterthought? Do the lyrics make me think?
  • Scoring:  Is the music scored minimally, such as with a simple accompaniment by a piano or acoustic guitar, or does the score call for a greater number of instruments and layers?  Why was the scoring designed as it was?

Discovering songwriters who succeed at their craft is truly a joy: Rufus Wainwright does just that. While Wainwright has been around for some time, with the exception of his brilliant cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," for some reason I had not paid attention to his work before. Rufus is the son of the singer/songwriter, actor, and humorist Loudon Wainright III

Noting superlative reviews by sources I respect, such as Paste, for Wainwright's Out of the Game, his seventh studio album, I decided to check it out.

It's a terrific work.  The songs are all carefully constructed, layered, and performed.  Not nearly enough can I enjoy listening to complex pop music and enjoy having a wonderful melody in my head hours after having heard it. The stories in the songs are compelling. While the music is new and original, I can hear echoes of the pop music songwriting giants: Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and David Bowie, upon whose shoulders Rufus Wainright stands.

The musicianship on this album is stellar.  The Dap Kings do a fantastic job serving as Wainright's backup band.  And the guest artists on the album,  including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner, Wilco's Nels Cline, Martha Wainwright, and Sean Lennon do more than just show up.

Here is the clever studio video of Out of the Game's title track, featuring actress Helena Bonham Carter:

In a few weeks Fletcher and I will be sharing our "Best of 2012" lists.  Don't be surprised when you see this album on my list.

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