CD Cover Rufus Wainwright

Review by Darren Gawle

Recently on the road with Sean Lennon in what the music press dubbed the 'kids of famous parents tour', Rufus Wainwright's eponymous debut could be reviewed in that context if only I were a little more familiar with the work of Kate & Anna McGarrigle -- or with Loudon Wainwright III's catalogue at all. And now, having listened to this album, I realize what a spectacular insult that would be.

With Paul McCartney's 1966-67 output and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds providing a benchmark to which many of the post-grunge set seem to aspire these days, Rufus Wainwright seems to capture the idiom with an apparent -- and infuriating -- ease. Certainly, no matter how earnestly and how well Sloan nail down songs like "Junior Panthers" or "Sinking Ships," beside Wainwright their efforts sound like an over-zealous pastiche.

Excellent, lush, and evocative songs aside, the album is also chock-full of lyrical whimsy and startling chord progressions. "April Fools" puts a spring in your step and a sneer on your face with a sudden minor-key change in the refrain just to caution you against singing "And you will believe in love!" in the shower (like, it's not a love song, dammit!). "Beauty Mark" is sweet little sketch, possibly (?) dedicated to Rufus' mum, while a number of other tracks ("Matinee Idol", "Millbrook" and "In My Arms", for example) exude a deliciously decadent cabaret flavour reminiscent of Bertold Brecht -- left in lesser hands, they'd probably sound like pure camp.

So Rufus Wainwright has a couple of pretty famous parents -- so what? Rufus vindicates himself by producing an album that's excellent by anyone's standards. If you must judge the guy, at least he can stand and be judged on his own merits.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on December 5, 1998

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