Quite a Journey

Release the Stars (Geffen Records)
Rufus Wainwright

By Cricket Bidwell

From the first notes of "Do I Disappoint You," there is an enveloping feel to Rufus Wainwright's new album - something like the feel of sitting in an audience of an operatic production or an Andrew Lloyd Weber performance. This lushness magnifies the personal feel of the lyrics: "Do I disappoint you in just being human?"

Wainwright had intended to make a simple little album, but then headed to Berlin to write and record. He ended up with his best album to date, featuring instruments ranging from the usual guitars and piano, to timpani, French horns, harp, cello and castanets and with British actress Sian Phillips (I, Claudius, among others) providing a spoken-word lyric atop the sounds of Weber's "Phantom of the Opera" that rounds out "Between my Legs."

In "Going to a Town," Wainwright shows his political side while admitting to some discomfort about where America has gone: "You took advantage of a world that loved you well."

"Slideshow" sounds like teasing between Wainwright and his beau: "And I better be prominently featured in your next slideshow / Because I paid a lot of money to get you here, you know," which seems to speak directly to flying his boyfriend to Berlin while he was working. This is one of my favorites, again with the reprise of the sounds of "Phantom," but also with some Beatle-esque moments of melody.

The stripped-down sound of "Leaving for Paris No. 2" becoming a welcome change after the baroque brashness of most of the album. Wainwright sings quietly along with just a guitar, bass and piano about leaving someone behind: "I'm leaving for Paris / No, I don't think that I'll see you ... / And when I get there I'll lose the ring you gave me."

"Sanssouci," the most talked-about song on the disk, runs through Wainwright's thoughts on addiction (crystal meth for him) and rehab in a poppy, upbeat melody: "Who will be at sanssouci tonight? / The boys that made me lose the blues and my eyesight." (This apparently happened to him for a short while due to the drug.)

Finishing out with the title track, he returns to the orchestra - this time, the London Session Orchestra. With a soft music hall sound working into the strings and horns, Wainwright keeps this one calmer than the opening songs, but what sounds to me like almost a Judy Garland flair.

All in all, it's quite a journey through Wainwright's mind and musical talents. All the way to Berlin and back.

Check out Rufus at www.rufuswainwright.com.