Rufus Wainwright Comes Full Circle on Older, Wiser 'Unfollow the Rules'

BY Sarah ChodosPublished Jul 8, 2020

Rufus Wainwright has introduced Unfollow the Rules as coming full-circle in relation to his 1998 self-titled debut album. Indeed, it is a homecoming.

When Wainwright started appearing in Top 40 countdowns in the late 1990s, he drew a from a folk background — the mighty Wainwright-McGarrigle lineage — as well as a personal love of both pop and opera. The result was that he seemed both wise beyond his years and just a little bit ahead of his time.

Since then, he has proven himself multi-talented: two operas, Shakespearean sonnets set to music, and, of course, the riveting Shrek rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" all stand in his oeuvre. Unfollow the Rules comes full-circle, yes, but with the added and unretractable additions of age, time and experience.

The vocals on Unfollow the Rules are unmistakably Wainwright's — remarkably indistinguishable from his younger voice. With the strong drumbeat on the opening track, "Trouble in Paradise," it also becomes apparent that this album possesses some spark: if it represents coming home at dusk, then it is not without fireworks.

"Damsel in Distress" is an ode to Joni Mitchell; in particular, to his mother, the late folksinger Kate McGarrigle, and her jealousy of Mitchell. The song is dominated by strong acoustic guitar strumming, making Mitchell's influence clear.

"You Ain't Big" is a vintage throwback to the sounds of '40s and '50s, and it's so authentic that it almost sounds like it must be a cover of something from that time.

This 12-track album is composed of three four-song acts, taking us on a journey: first of adventure-seeking, then of being in the throes of over-indulgence (as sung about on "Romantical Man") and then, finally, the sombre aftermath.

However, even in this sombre final stage, Wainwright is now happily married ("Peaceful Afternoon" is dedicated to his husband) with a daughter (the title of the album is a quote from her). It's not so much sad as it is introspective.

The burst of energy on Unfollow the Rules might come as a surprise, but perhaps not an inexplicable one; the energy once spent blazing the trail forward is now spent dancing in place.

Latest Coverage