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Rufus Wainwright (1998)
Producer: Jon Brion, Pierre Marchand
In My Arms
This is the self-titled debut album by Canadian-American singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. It is pretty fair to say that Rufus didn't just fall into this line of work by chance. He is the son of Folk icons Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, and he is also the brother to fellow performer Martha Wainwright.
The first time I heard Rufus Wainwright was on Jools Holland. He performed a song named Vibrate, from his album Want One. The simplicity of the song, when coupled with his unique voice, left me spellbound. I had never heard music like this before! I swiftly got onto Play.com and bought up his back catalogue. I mustn't have been any older than 15 at the time...
I immediately found myself out of my depth. I had only just made the transition from listening to 50 Cent to Ice Cube, and I was just starting to appreciate David Bowie. In my attempts to make my small music collection more credible I had shot myself in the foot. The albums found themselves excluded to the nethermost region of my CD rack.
That was until today. This very afternoon I told myself, "Right D, of late you've been listening to way too much Cure and Talking Heads. You're gonna turn into a New Wave/Gothic Ferret and combust if you aren't careful."
So what could I do about it? The answer was simple, "I know, I'll listen to Rufus; I know he'd want me to. I reckon I can handle the albums now. I'm 18 after all, I mean, I can drive and drink, EVEN AT THE SAME TIME, surely I can listen to a man at his piano." I often have conversations with myself, people call me crazy, but putting on this debut album by Rufus Wainwright was the best thing I've done in weeks.
Foolish Love is such a good opening song that I want to bust-a-move just thinking about it. It's like basking in the sun while a beautiful woman (or man - depends how u swing) fans you with a folded copy of The Guardian and feeds you grapes. It's like drinking wine from a prestigious Viking's goblet. It's like eating the last Solero on a summer's day and then laughing when your sister comes in asking for it. Whichever you happen to pick, the song is majestic and Rufus sounds like an enormous talent from the off. It's just him at the piano singing his heart out, and the jaunty change in tempo at the 2 minute mark causes it to become a jazz/swing number. Rufus seamlessly makes the transition from gentle piano ballad to over-the-top cabaret.
Anything named Danny Boy induces fear, as it recalls hours of misspent youth enduring the torment my siblings used to poke at me because of my namesake. Gladly this has nothing in common with old Irish jigs, but has lots in common with the well written Foolish Love. Rufus has quite the tremulous voice and this is showcased wonderfully here.
The following April Fools is all summery and full of life. The piano is still present, but takes a backseat in favour of guitars. The acoustic guitar provides the main driving rhythm, while the electric guitar is used to great effect as a support instrument. The chorus is thrilling and it makes me feel so happy, "You will believe in love, and all that it's supposed to be." Martha Wainwright adds some excellent backing vocals too.
I'm not a big fan of In My Arms. Unfortunately the instrumental side of things is a little neglected, confusing minimalism for laziness, and Rufus sounds very hoarse in places. The lyrics are excellent as usual, detailing the longing to re-live a short-lived relationship.
Baby comes complete with a professional orchestra, conducted by Van Dyke Parks. Rufus is careful not to allow the song to become over-powered by the substantial backing, and your attention remains drawn to the lyrics and his voice. You see, it's all about creative control!
Beauty Mark is a playful little number with an excellent provision of percussion at hand. Sure, it is still primarily a ballad, but the rolling piano keys and yearning vocals between verses ensure it rolls along at a speedy pace. It is little more than 2 minutes long and would have made an ideal single.
Barcelona is stupendous entertainment. It features a very professional and restrained performance, which in turn ensures that it is a success. Nothing is pompous or over-blown; it is simply well written and arranged to absolute perfection. The chamberlin (a keyboard instrument to the uninitiated) provides exquisite classical backing and gives any of the genuine orchestra tracks a run for their money.
At this point the album takes a rather dark and more melancholy approach to the style of songs. Matinee Idol has truly maniacal backing, with the marimba sounding positively mischievous and recalling the madness of a circus. All the fun of seeing women on stilts and an elephant carrying a dwarf, but at a fraction of the price!
Damned Ladies features no such surprises and is possibly the worst song on the album. It plods along like a hippo in a mud bath and promises to become a challenging piece of music, but before you know it the song has finished and you're still at square one.
Imaginary Love is a fine end to an impressive album. While the drums are almost walking into programmed loop territory, the shimmering guitar lines keep the credible side of things alive. Rufus sounds charming throughout and his vocals glide effortlessly from one set of lyrics to the next.
Upon the release of this debut, accolades were showered down upon Rufus, including Rolling Stone naming him 1998's best new artist. And who am I to argue? The man creates some magic at that piano of his and the arrangements are often second to none.
P.S. If you hadn't noticed I was glad that I picked it up off the CD rack again.
Read more of my reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Foolish Love
2 Danny Boy
3 April Fools
4 In My Arms
7 Beauty Mark
9 Matinee Idol
10 Damned Ladies
11 Sally Ann
12 Imaginary Love