Where To Start With… Rufus Wainwright
It’s typical, isn’t it? You wait two years for a Rufus Wainwright album and then two come along at once. Well, sort of…
Next week will see the release of a greatest hits compilation entitled Vibrate: The Best of Rufus Wainwright, as well as a live album in the form of Rufus Wainwright: Live from the Artists Den.
The ‘Best Of’ will be available as a both a single-CD and a deluxe edition 2-CD set, the latter of which will include a bonus disc with an assortment of rarities and live recordings, as well as two new tracks, ‘Me & Liza’ and ‘Chic and Pointless’. The live album meanwhile is taken from his 2012 performance at the Church of Ascension in New York’s Greenwich Village, the majority of which was aired on PBS, although the album does include five previously un-aired songs from the concert, with sixteen tracks in total.
If you’re a fan of the man Elton John once referred to as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” then chances are you’ll have most of the songs on both albums already, but the live album is worth checking out anyway, particularly his moving piano rendition of ‘On My Way to Town’, a song by his mother Kate McGarrigle, which he dedicates to her memory.
For those who are new to the Wainwright canon, however, both serve as a good introduction to his music. You’ll be able to get your hands on both on March 3rd, but in the meantime we’ve picked out five tracks from his back catalogue to get you started.
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
The opening track from his sophomore album, Poses, ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ will, within the space of its first verse, give you an idea of Wainwright’s songwriting prowess, seamlessly slipping from major to minor and back again in a manner reminiscent of some of Paul McCartney’s better contributions to The Beatles, while he croons about cravings and impulses. It’s still one of his most popular songs and it’s really very beautiful.
Crumb by Crumb
(from Want Two)
Taken from Want Two, this track features guest vocals from Leona Naess and builds from a lazy, jazzy groove into typically Wainwright-esque arrangement, awash with swelling orchestral flourishes and dreamy backing vocals. If there was ever a perfect song to play on a Sunday morning, this is it.
Going to a Town
(from Release the Stars)
This piano-led number appears on Release The Stars and is weary lament featuring the refrain ‘I’m so tired of you, America’, which pretty much says it all really. The anger-fuelled lyrics, which reportedly address the Bush administration and the damage Wainwright believes it did to the U.S., are juxtaposed with a mournful, slowly-building backing track, serving as his parting shot before leaving for Berlin.
Who Are You New York?
(from All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu)
The opener from All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, the first album he released following the death of his mother, the song is a showcase for Wainwright’s virtuosity as a pianist. Originally recorded for a film, but rejected by its producers, it appeared here instead, apparently to his considerable relief. The movie’s loss is the album’s gain though, as it’s a beautifully crafted and poignant opening salvo for the record.
(from Out of the Game)
Taken from his most recent studio album, the Mark Ronson-produced Out of the Game, which he recorded in New York with Ronson and The Dap Kings, it’s one of the poppiest tracks on the album and Wainwright’s trademark sound is augmented by Ronson’s production, with hints of bubbling synths accompanying the pianos that suggest a more experimental approach than usual, while showing the breadth of his musical influences.