(Decca Records/Polydor Records) Rufus Wainwright's latest album, Out of the Game, finds him settling into a life that perhaps neither his fans or the artist himself would have predicted. The title is a reference to the fact that the former debauched, Wilde-esque troubadour of the "Poses" and "Want" years has been engaged for a few months now, and has seemingly settled down (sorry, boys). There's very little genuine regret at this turn of events on the album. Frankly, he sounds more than a little relieved in the way his life is developing, and it’s a relief that shows in Out of the Game's laconic charm.
The title track finds Wainwright contrasting his present life with that of a younger man about to go out and, as Rufus puts it, "…ruin the world, once mine." That line, and the song in general, captures the mixture of derision, concern, indulgence, and nostalgia felt by those of us straddling the line between the sort of adulthood where nobody can stop you from ingesting more than two mind-altering substances at a time - and the kind of adulthood defined by sincere regret that you never learned how interest rates work. Wainwright asks his young friend to let Rufus smell him "one last time" before the latter goes out to "sleep with a sea of men," presumably to trigger Wainwright's memory of the glory and inglory of his Wilde days. It's a wonderfully creepy image, evoking Wainwright as Marcel Proust and his young friend as a tea-soaked Madeline.
But, as the chorus of the song makes clear, Wainwright has no desire to actually relive that portion of his life. He chides the poor fool "Look at you, look at you, look at you, look at you Suckers! / Does your mama know what you're doin'?" Of course, whether you've ever uttered some version of that last line is a standard litmus test. If you have, then the adjectives "cool" and "uncool" can no longer be applied to you. Wainwright seems to relish the transition.
Another domestic development in the life of the artist is that Wainwright now has a baby daughter named Viva. Perhaps the artist has achieved the maximum level of bourgeoisie normality available to a citizen of the United States (sorry, boys and girls). Viva is the subject of the song "Montauk," one of the album's strongest tracks. In it, over a rolling, seasick piano riff that descends and staggers up again in a manner strongly reminiscent of the verse of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," Wainwright imagines his grown daughter visiting her dads in Montauk. "One day you will come to Montauk / And see your dad trying to be funny / And see your other dad seeing through me / I hope you will protect your dad." The combination of wistfulness and awkward silliness is sublime, rather than maudlin, as such experiments usually turn out. "Don't worry / I know you have to go."
"Montauk" isn't the only song that suggests psychedelic and post-psychedelic-era Beatles. The climbing insanity of the title track's breakdown is straight out of "A Day in the Life," and "Rashida" sounds in parts eerily like the chorus of "She's so Heavy." All further evidence of Wainwright’s affection of classic pop melodies and easy progressions. This approach is not the result of exuberant and aggressive silliness of Abbey Road experimentation. Wainwright displays a masterful restraint in arrangement and production. The thematically appropriate horn section in "Jericho" does what horn sections don't usually achieve: it adds color and texture without taking over the song. And as the album progresses, the production recedes; first exemplified by "Montauk," with its piano and vintage-synth sound. The spare, smoky country arrangement of "Respectable Dive," the intimate, drenched summer evening sound of "Sometimes You Need," and the lonely, acoustic guitar and accordion-driven "Candles" all rely on little more than Wainwright's ability to build a killer song.
"Candles" deserves particular attention. It's a sprawling song mostly, though occasionally whacked into shape by a marshal snare drum. The main refrain, repeated throughout, is, "It's always just that little bit more / That doesn't get you what you're looking for / But gets you where you need to go / But the churches have run out of candles." A tired-sounding Wainwright proves that there still isn't anyone who can elongate a syllable like he can; every instance of the word "run", held aloft just a tiny bit longer than you expect even as the rest of the song moves on, induces a shiver. Then he starts elongating the "churches". It's a supremely melancholy song; the domesticated version of Rufus Wainwright has not by any means been neutered.
Quite the opposite. If this album is what happens Rufus Wainwright finally settles down, I wish him a long, happy, marriage.
Standout Tracks: "Jericho", "Montauk", "Candles", "Rashida", "Sometimes You Need", "Perfect Man"
For Fans Of: Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Damian Rice