The scrutiny of success that came early on--being named Best New Artist by Rolling Stone in 1998, the year of his debut album, for example--would have smothered many another emerging talent. But it failed to stopper the ... more »singular, unclassifiable, ranging gift of singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. His sophomore album, Poses, advances beyond the earlier, cabaret-inspired effort with a suite of songs marvelously varied in arrangement and texture but linked by Wainwright's characteristic theatrical panache. "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" catalogs excess with playful self-censure, but Wainwright's whimsical ironies often take a bruising, poignant turn, whether in the pseudo-upbeat "California" or, most movingly, on the title track. The dying fall of Wainwright's lusher melodies--echoes of "Across the Universe" as well as ultrachic Beatles tunes such as "Michelle"--meshes remarkably with the poetic substance here as he explores a landscape of wistful self-knowledge caught between longing and decadence. Yet even through all the layers of picturesque, postmod observation, Wainwright conveys a sense-filtered experience that gives urgency to his hauntingly mumbled opacities. With Poses, the young artist proves his authenticity. --Thomas May« less
The scrutiny of success that came early on--being named Best New Artist by Rolling Stone in 1998, the year of his debut album, for example--would have smothered many another emerging talent. But it failed to stopper the singular, unclassifiable, ranging gift of singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. His sophomore album, Poses, advances beyond the earlier, cabaret-inspired effort with a suite of songs marvelously varied in arrangement and texture but linked by Wainwright's characteristic theatrical panache. "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" catalogs excess with playful self-censure, but Wainwright's whimsical ironies often take a bruising, poignant turn, whether in the pseudo-upbeat "California" or, most movingly, on the title track. The dying fall of Wainwright's lusher melodies--echoes of "Across the Universe" as well as ultrachic Beatles tunes such as "Michelle"--meshes remarkably with the poetic substance here as he explores a landscape of wistful self-knowledge caught between longing and decadence. Yet even through all the layers of picturesque, postmod observation, Wainwright conveys a sense-filtered experience that gives urgency to his hauntingly mumbled opacities. With Poses, the young artist proves his authenticity. --Thomas May
George Dalzell | LA, CA United States | 01/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This second album by Rufus Wainwright is a stunning achievement and sublime follow-up to this musical genius's first release, though I grudgingly welcome listening to any song after the peerless track from his first CD, FOOLISH LOVE. How can you improve on such sheer beauty and perfection? And yet Wainwright does just that with his song POSES, the title track, and the brilliant confessional in CIGARETTES AND CHOCOLATE MILK: "Please be kind if I'm a mess." At present writing, POSES, an '01 release, is currently sold out in Los Angeles at Tower and Amoeba. Go there and just mention it to the salespeople at either store and witness their uncanny enthusiasm, their singular joy at the talent of Rufus Wainwright. I'm bowled over completely by both his CDs --- I've never heard such original material, singing, phrasing and musicianship in many years. In POSES, substance prevails over image despite the surprising lyric, "There's never been such a grave a matter as comparing our new brand name black sunglasses all these poses such beautiful poses makes any boy feel as pretty as princes..." How could this not stir the envy of Morrissey, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd-Weber and Johnny-Come-Lately, John Mayer? What a mind, what a talent, what a gift -- POSES -- and the icing on the cake? Rufus' cover of John Lennon's masterpiece, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. Sir Elton --- you should be phoning up Rufus Wainwright in my humble opinion."
Retaining Mystique While Facing Forward...
Florestan | Chicago, IL | 09/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I remember hearing much buzz around Rufus upon the release of his self-titled first album. Ever mindful that there is also much buzz around swarms of killer bees and felonious haircuts, I stayed away. Hearing Rufus himself would have to wait until I stumbled upon "Complainte de la Butte" off the "Moulin Rouge!" soundtrack... not his song, but a distinct improvement over any interpretation I had heard previously. "Hosanna in the highest," thought I, "the buzzards actually got something right!"
What to do? As I wallowed in willful blindness, this guy cut three (four if one adds the unreleased "Want Two" to the tally) albums, and I soon realized I was not in Kansas anymore. Since I lack the requisite footwear to click my heels three times and hope for the best, I bought all three albums and hoped for the best. "Poses" was first in queue. I wish I could ascribe musicologically cosmic motives to my choice. Alas and alack, I applied the far more banal "what's the first song called?" test. Then, as now, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" seemed to me a more appealing prospect than "Foolish Love," if for no other reason than that I enjoy the former and have seen my share of the latter.
Fortunately, "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" happens to be a strikingly original and genially self-effacing paean to overindulgence. This theme is captured both in the lyrics and the music, which deviates from "spare" in virtually every respect. Rufus keeps this "singing shall set me free" lens focused squarely on himself throughout the album, including a brilliant exercise in double-entendre by covering his father's "One Man Guy." He seems completely at ease ignoring the precepts by which commercial music is ordained as such, though his radio-friendly "California" dispels any doubt that this tendency is a function of choice rather than necessity. His greatest achievement on this album (and I soon found on others) is promulgating an effective species of songwriting bereft of slavish reliance to melodic symmetry, harmonically conclusive phrases, and uncluttered instrumental textures. His genious is not in eschewing these practices but rather in supplementing them with musical devices all his own.
One minor gripe is that Rufus's pronunciation seems at times needlessly mannered. I too lived in Montreal over an extended period, yet his categorical refusal to sustain a note over the long vowel sound "ee" still perplexes me (or should I say "may"). Recently, a learned friend of mine explained that this phenomenon is known as "diphthong" problem in formal singing parlance. I'm reluctant to even mention a "diphthong problem" because it sounds like a case for a urologist. A quick skim of the liner notes confirms that a urologist is one thing this boy most definitely does not need. But I digress.
Rufus Wainwright communicates the plight of the forlorn and the foolish through decidedly non-formulaic musical language. His lyrics frankly address his homosexuality. In an ideal world, these characteristics would be virtues, or at least non-issues, rather than liabilities. Since we're saddled with the world we live in now, I doubt that Rufus Wainwright will soundly connect with the majority of the listening public. The goal of universal appeal seems as dubious as it is quixotic, especially since Earth does not want for people exhibiting deplorable tastes in all matters aesthetic (to wit, boy-bands, Capri pants and White House denizens). There are far too many variables of the nature versus nurture variety to predict exactly who will enjoy this music. Rufus counts among his fans the the old and young, the enlightened and the daft, the boys and the girls (who may like boys, girls, neither or both). In short, it's pretty damned confusing. If you find yourself among the chosen few who latch onto the Rufus train, this album's got smoking wheels, and will lead you to a lovelier place."
A little bit heiress, a little bit Irish
Tim Brough | Springfield, PA United States | 11/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The second album from Rufus Wainwright was a quantum leap from the disjointed debut. The songs on "Poses" fit seamlessly next to each other, giving this Cd the feel of a conceptual whole. Rufus took the effort to hone in on his strengths here, and it makes "Poses" a far more rewarding listen.
As he chronicles on the opening "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," overindulgence often gets the better of him. It's a familiar terrain for this disc, be it the dark cloud that hovers over the peppy "California" or the confused soul at the heart of "Rebel Prince." Rufus' character studies (which are wonderfully realized on both of his "Want" albums) reached the levels of his parents' best work here. Perhaps the most profound example of this is the melancholic title song, tracking the general shallow disdain of the too-chic-for-their-own-good urban hipsters. (As other reviewers have noted, it made a perfect coda to an episode of "Queer As Folk's" second season.)
"I did go from wanting to be someone now I'm drunk and wearing flip flops on fifth avenue. Once you've fallen from classical virtue won't have a soul for to wake up and hold you."
It's a fate that Rufus allegedly fell into between this disc and "Want One," but he made the trap sound so sweet and inviting. His voice gained expressiveness for "Poses," even if it meant losing some of the boyish clarity of the debut, it has also made him a more emotive singer (and continued to grow in ability after this CD). Rufus Wainwright may have made a lot of changes for "Poses," but he kept his uniqueness. In an age of cookie cutter pop and writing, that is the greatest virtue of them all."
Sad and Hopeful music...
Eugene | Columbus, OH United States | 01/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In music, nothing is more difficult than writing a good sad song. Too often, artists' attempts are lost in cliche'd and cheesy pining about forlorn love and inner pain. Contemporary pioneers of the sad song (such as Elliot Smith, Jeff Buckley) tapped into that part of your soul where the sado-masochistic feeling of revelling in your own pain became cathartic. But it's a rare occassion when a musician comes along who can write sad songs that are at the same time hopeful and uplifting. Rufus Wainwright is one of the few. To say "Poses" is a great album doesn't really begin to describe it. Because it's not so much the music, as it is the experience listening to him creates. The son of country great Loudon Wainwright, he represents the kind of underdog quality that makes it easy to cheer for if given any sort of reason. His wailing and off kilter voice, along with his tongue in cheek references to his own sexuality are placed on display with his inner demons, almost in a kind of faux-puppet show. He wants you to laugh with him at the skeletons, rather than give him pity or sympathy. And he does it with a songwriter's touch that is trapped in the classical stylings of bard-like songs of medieval times."Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk" (one of the strangest titles of a song, ever) opens the album in a humorous look at coming to grips with your own vices....as "Greek Song" sweeps through with a waltz-like quality. Slower pieces like "Poses" and "Rebel Prince" show the softer qualities of Wainwright's voice, as whispers and quiet acoustic guitars help him fill up the tracks with a presence few full piece bands have. But perhaps the gem of the album is a reworking of his father's "One Man Guy", a sad piece that at first seems like a love song, only on closer listen do you see the awareness and the enjoyment of the artist's own selfishness in his love for his bachelor's lifestyle. Very few musicians can write pieces that surge and soar the way that Rufus Wainwright's do. He is the kind of young artist that you hope never changes, even in the face of fitting a niche of music that many people will never bother to check in on, while wishing he'd receive his due by all. But he's one of the few musicians left today you get the feeling is just content with doing it for the love of making music. And thank God for that."
margarita | 04/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"honestly, i think this is rufus's best effort. it's funny, it's morbid, it's deeply emotional and touching. personally, i wasn't crazy about "one man guy" (originally by his father) or "evil angel" (i got this evanescence-esque feeling: not good). but those lyrics! that voice! the arrangements! wouldn't start out with this one if you're planning to get into rufus, because his other albums won't compare.
my favorite track: "in a graveyard". probably the most beautiful song i've ever encountered."