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Wednesday June 6, 2001

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CD Review: Rufus Wainwright

By Graig Uhlin



Grade: A-

Following the release of his much acclaimed debut album, Rufus Wainwright decided that for his follow-up, he would turn himself into a rock star. That decision - one that never quite materialized - most likely sought to counteract the singer-songwriter's relative anonymity with the listening public.

Sure, the critics knew who he was (Rolling Stone named him the Best New Artist of 1998), but Wainwright's singular style - his music has been called "modern ballads" and "popera" - seemed to alienate a public weaned on happy, peppy pop melodies or grunge or hip-hop or anything really.

Wainwright's lyrically-driven, often-piano-accompanied ditties just don't fit any of the usual marketing categories, at least from this generation. His songs harken back to time long gone - one of Judy Garland, of arias at the opera, of cabaret music.

And while Rufus has not become Mick Jagger, his sophomore effort Poses is a subtle departure from the sung-on-a-gondola-in-a-canal-in-Venice feel of his first album. The CD's first single, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," for instance, is radio-friendly ode to excess that demonstrates the artist's mainstream potential. Many of the other tracks, though, return to the occasionally over-produced artistry that made Wainwright a critical darling. And though his lyricism and craftsmanship is on full display, Wainwright belies the light-hearted tone of his more pop-tinged tunes by, well, sulking.

The melodies are somber, his voice whiny, the lyrics depressing - which wouldn't be bad normally if Wainwright had not shown such remarkable talent for more upbeat fare. So, Rufus, be sullen if you want, but remember, misery may love company, but company (especially the listening public) does not always love in return.