Something Else! sneak peek: Rufus Wainwright, "Out of the Game" (2012)

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Rufus Wainwright returns with a song that sounds as old as polyester and, in fact, boasts a few venomous rebukes of dead-end dalliances that you’d expect to hear from the old men who once wore it.

The title track to Wainwright’s seventh studio album, set for release on May 1, 2012 through Decca/Universal, was produced by Mark Ronson — perhaps best known for his work with Amy Winehouse. But whereas those sessions mined the rich 1960s-era legacies of Dusty Springfield and Etta James, “Out of the Game” is rooted firmly in the sounds of a decade later.

Wainwright commences with a lithe countrypolitan beat, then — with no small amount of irony — opens his narrative with the line: “I’m out of the game — I’ve been out for a long time.” It’s fitting, since there’s nothing about this that feels modern, save for his weary, slurry, utterly isolated vocal. When these yawling backup singers burst in for the chorus, sounding something like the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Wainwright steadies himself a bit. Still, “Out of the Game” never leaves its shag-carpeted underpinnings, eventually ramping up into a churchy soul-blues feel in the style of Leon Russell.

There’s a shambling grandeur, anyway, just as there had been with Russell — something at once beautiful and haunting. The difference is that those old 1970s guys, both the wide-collared “Hee Haw” hayseeds and the long-beard motorcycle-riding burnouts, never approached Wainwright’s dark depths of loathing, self and otherwise. When he cries out: “Suckers! Does your mama know what you’re doing?,” it’s with all of the bitter resignation of somebody who’s already seen some really dark shit. He knows just where his sleep-around subject’s depraved journey ends — and, given the right circumstances, he might just follow them down that road.

The results are uncommon in their layered complexity, both with the music and the message, making it the best kind of throwback. Wainwright, in another moment of unvarnished lyrical honesty, reminds us that he’s always “looking for something that can’t be found on the main drag” — and he uncovers it once more with “Out of the Game.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Rufus Wainwright. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – WANT ONE (2003): With his 2001 release, Poses Wainwright (yes, the son of Loudon Wainwright III) gave the world a breath of fresh air. Often set to what amounts to modern day Tin Pan Alley tunes, Wainwright uses his voice to display something that so often goes ignored these days — melody. Possessed of a breathy, laid-back voice, it’s easy to get caught up in Rufus’ effortless and yet understated sense of dramatic melody. So powerful is his gift that jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas chose the title track to lead off his 2002 album, The Infinite. Dave knows the good stuff when he hears it.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – RELEASE THE STARS (2007): I am convinced that Wainwright is this generation’s finest melodist. I can’t think of a single young artist who so beautifully crafts vocals in such a way that it simply doesn’t matter what he’s singing about: You just want to hear the melody he’s singing. And there is a lot of Broadway in his vocal style, but he uses it for good, not evil, turning out stunning performances in material that would normally have a nasal-voiced singer like him kicked out of every open audition he tried out for. Wainwright’s vocals simply stretch beyond the normal. There’s power and emotion that so few honestly display in modern rock.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: COME TOGETHER: A NIGHT FOR JOHN LENNON’S WORDS AND MUSIC (2008): This concert, first envisioned as a benefit to raise anti-violence awareness through the work of John Lennon, was scheduled to be held on Oct. 2, 2001, at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall. Then came Sept. 11, and the event quickly evolved into both a poignant reminder of what the world lost when Lennon was killed but also a tribute to the city he called home for the last years of his life. A highlight is “Across the Universe,” from the Fab finale Let It Be, which features Moby, the former Beatle’s son Sean Lennon and this quivering, almost tearful vocal by Rufus Wainwright. They embolden a song that once held a memorably dreamlike quality with this shaky defiance: “Nothing’s gonna change my world,” the trio sings, in a world that did, in fact, feel completely changed.

VICIOUS WORLD – PLAYS THE MUSIC OF RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (2011): Originally named for a Rufus Wainwright song, it was perhaps inevitable that Vicious World would eventually devote an entire album to this underrated contemporary singer-songwriter. That doesn’t make the prospect any less daunting, considering the sharp turns and blind alleys associated with Wainwright’s deeply idiosyncratic style. But Vicious World, a septet co-led by saxophonist Aaron Irwin and trombonist Matthew McDonald, matches the music’s mysterious melodicism with an expanded lineup that also includes lush textures from violinist Eliza Cho and cellist Maria Jeffers, notably on the elegiac “Memphis Skyline.” It’s an album of lasting depth, filled with both poignant pauses and plenty of swing — no small surprise.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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