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Review

Wainwright exposes listeners to an introspective, personal view of his life

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April 30, 2010

The career of Rufus Wainwright has been filled with peaks and valleys, an incredible talent lauded by critics yet scarred from relations with his famous parents. He’s blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime voice, and some of his peers have described him as one of the greatest singers of his generation (Martin Scorsese referred to him as “a one-man Greek chorus”), but he has battled with a horrific meth addiction that got so severe, he temporarily went blind.

The openly-gay son of famed musicians Loudan Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, there is no male musician who flashes more grandeur and the sheer extravagant flash of his soaring, classical arrangements is almost enough to make Louis XIV blush.

His latest album, “All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu” scales back the grand opera and baroque pop sound of his 2007 LP “Release the Stars” and sees the singer offer a much more personal look into his life. The Wainwright we see here is certainly a much different and more open figure than what he showed us during his Judy Garland tribute concert series. The first part of the album title, “all days are nights” is lifted from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43, and the mysterious figure of Lulu is intended to represent “a dark, brooding, dangerous woman that lives within all of us,” perhaps a reference to the Dark Lady figure found in Shakespeare’s poems.

“All Days are Nights” mainly strips all the flair down to just Wainwright and his piano, evoking a quiet, reflective atmosphere in which we are alone with him, his thoughts and his music. The results are not necessarily depressing, instead showing Wainwright at his most thoughtful and introspective.

There is strong evidence throughout the album that Wainwright had a difficult time coping with his mother Kate McGarrigle’s death this year. On the touching “Martha,” we hear Wainwright call to his sister for help. “Time to go up north and see mother / Things are harder for her now / And neither of us is really that much older than each other / Anymore,” he softly croons.

The opening track, “Who Are You New York,” is a flurry of arpeggios in which Wainwright reveals his full vocal range, and “Les feux d’artifice t’appellent” sees Wainwright sing for over five minutes in French.

He even takes on the ambitious task of setting three of Shakespeare’s sonnets to music. At times, they can seem slow and laborious, but Sonnet 20, thought by many to contain openly gay themes, is particularly applicable personally to Wainwright.

This release is not an easy listen by any means. Due to the weighty subject matter, if the listener doesn’t make the effort to transport themselves into the very personal space of Wainwright’s recording studio, the depth of his emotions will probably go unfelt. Although he sometimes tries to be a showman above all else, Wainwright here opens himself up fully in a heartfelt, and as always, a pleasure to listen to.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.