Out of the Game
Early scuttlebutt about Rufus Wainwright's new album, Out of the Game, had fingers pointed in all directions. It would mark his first collaboration with producer Mark Ronson; it would be a return to form, ŕ la 2001's Poses and 2007's Release the Stars, after segues into show tunes, standards and sparse piano arrangements; and it would be a dance record! Well, sort of, but not quite ― only one song ("Bitter Tears") qualifies as dance-like, unless jazz hands and choreography count. But, damn, it's good. From the titular opening track, Out of the Game is a glorious amalgamation of Wainwright and Ronson trademarks, though the latter's influences can't help but seem almost subtle buttressed up against Wainwright's sweeping, theatrical flourishes, both as a singer and composer. This dynamic unfolds song by song, making for an awe-inspiring clash of titans that rewards the listener with rapturously beautiful moments like "Jericho," featuring what sounds like a soul choir, a smattering of horns and Wainwright's distinctively laconic drawl building overtop an urgent chamber-pop explosion befitting a Broadway musical. In fact, the album plays like a stage production or a mini-series, each song a vignette from a larger story about a man grappling with fatherhood ("Montauk"), monogamy ("Respectable Dive") and mortality ("Candles"). These aren't new themes for Wainwright, but faced with Ronson's input on the arrangements, he's forced to dig deeper inside himself and his tried-and-true bag of cabaret pop tricks. And by refusing to let Ronson reshape his sound, Wainwright in turn forces the producer to move away from his usual formula. Suddenly Ronson must figure out ways to layer, for example, synth funk with '40s chanson piano. Not every moment is seamless, but the results are fascinating and, more importantly, enthralling from beginning to end.
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