Was he ever “out of the game”?
It depends on where you look really.
If you have been following Rufus Wainwright’s career for the last six years, you would know he had two live albums – one of which was a tribute to Judy Garland, a 19-disc (yes, 19) retrospective as well as a piano-driven one influenced by Shakespeare’s sonnets (we have not even begun talking about his dabbling in opera).
And you may be forgiven for thinking that the storied songwriter and composer had forgotten the fans who fell in love with his brand of lush, theatrical “Baroque” pop.
His last album, ‘Out of the Game’, which was released in April 2012 seems to have dispelled that notion with what, according to the operatic showman, was the “most pop album” he has ever made. This is coming from the man who called his music “undefinable”.
“Out of the Game”? More like playing it.
‘Out Of The Game’
In a way, ‘Out of the Game’ comes full circle for the singer who once pushed the limits of what a pop song was in his 1998 debut album.
“I’m dipping my toes into the mainstream again,” he tells inSing. “I don't think I will get washed away; I have pretty strong legs. Still, a little foot cleaning is good,” he quipped.
Wainwright performed on the first night of the Timbre Rock & Roots 2013 on 21 March at Fort Canning Park. He shared the stage at the two-day festival with the likes of Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Simon. “It will be an atypical show,” he teased, “nothing you ever seen before.”
Wainwright is one of the most popular and critically-celebrated singer-songwriters of his generation.
He was born into a musical family: his father is legendary folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and his mother who died in 2010 was the equally-influential Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle; his sister and half-sister Martha and Lucy are also singers.
The singer exploded onto the scene in the late ’90s with his self-titled debut album and gained fast traction with its follow-up, ‘Poses’.
For ‘Out of the Game’, Wainwright enlisted the help of friend Mark Ronson, whose retro-soul inclinations have worked wonders for the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele, to produce.
“Mark definitely had the chops and he’s a genius when it comes to capturing a certain vibe or emotion from your music.”
“I had to learn how to completely let go and trust him. Mind you, have you seen what he looks like? It wasn't that hard,” he laughed.
The result was a pop album all right, but one that’s steeped in ’70s pop-rock and recalls bands like Bread, Fleetwood Mac, Queen while channelling Elton John and David Bowie.
“The album was very influenced by the ’70s, a time when the borders of music weren't so defined, there was way more overlap which made it more interesting. Also, that period was more focused on songwriting, a lost art now. And people like Bowie and Elton hit their peaks in that era,” Wainwright explained.
As much as he describes his latest creations as pop, they are still distinctively Wainwright – left-of-field pop ballads with the obligatory orchestral flourishes. The lyrics also retain their quirkiness as well as introspection.
‘Montauk’ speaks about the future of daughter Viva (whose mother is Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard) whom Wainwright and his husband, Jorn Weisbrodt, adopted. “One day you will come to Montauk/and see your dad wearing a kimono/and see your other dad pruning roses/hope you won’t turn around and go,” he sings.
Another standout track is the mournful closer, ‘Candles’, which reflects on his mother’s death as well as his helplessness and grief for her.
As always, the question about him carrying on his family’s musical legacy pops up and Wainwright was quick to admit that the pressure is always around: “It’s something that I am fully embarrassed and even encouraged by.”
“I'm an old-school drama queen, and nothing has more drama than a good old-fashioned dynasty.”
'The Best of Rufus Wainwright' | Date: 17 March 2015 | Time: 8pm | Venue: Esplanade Theatre | Tickets: $48-$108