I wrote one of two PopMatters reviews that were published today for the new Rufus Wainwright. Despite some slight misgivings about the album’s pacing, I think it’s one of the best pop singer-songwriter albums of 2012 so far and Wainwright’s best in quite a while; Enio Chiola, who wrote the other review is, um, far less impressed.
Aside from the fact that his review reads like a takedown of Wainwright the person in places, I couldn’t disagree more with the notion that Out of the Game is moralizing and self-pitying. The title track isn’t embodied in the lines “Look at you suckers / Does your mama know what you’re doin’?” nor in the lines “Say, come over here / Let me smell you for one last time / Before you go out there / And ruin all of the world, once mine.” It’s in the humor where the twin impulses of snarky dismissal and nostalgia intersect — have fun out there with your empty lives of drugs and anonymous sex, but goddamn if I’m not gonna miss my old empty life of drugs and anonymous sex…
And so the rest of the album goes, at least to my mind. Wainwright’s never been out to capture the human condition in full, but rather to provide the State of the Wainwright at a moment in time (with occasional detours into sharp storytelling like “The Art Teacher,” “The Consort,” etc.). So it should hardly come as a surprise that not all of Out of the Game is designed for easy identifiability. Most of us can’t live like Wainwright (although as an expectant father, I find quite a lot to identify with in “Montauk,” despite being straight and not having a second home in upstate NY; as well as in the straightforward love of “Respectable Dive”), but, then, most of those who can live like Wainwright can’t write melodies and words like Wainwright can.
Wainwright doesn’t fish for empathy when it comes to his ridiculous life, hanging with famous people, traveling from exotic locale to exotic locale. To interpret “Rashida” as an oblivious, petulant complaint about not getting invited to a glamorous party is to miss the irony in the Queen-level opulence of the arrangement and the final kiss-off “I’d like to thank you, Rashida, for giving me a reason to call Miss Portman and to write this song.” This may not be Watch the Throne in terms of wealth calling attention to itself for critique, but it’s in the Porter-esque style of name-dropping for comedic effect, which doesn’t lack an element of upper-class self-ridicule.
I wouldn’t claim that Out of the Game is on the level of Wainwright’s very best work, but I have trouble squaring Chiola’s negative review with the smart, tuneful, and generally well-rounded pop album I’ve been listening to.