Central to Rufus Wainwright’s sophomore album Poses, besides his strong, dominating voice, is the recurrent theme of loneliness in the face of extravagance.
His melodies and lyrics often summon antagonistic emotions — as in the first track, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” which feels like an opening number of a Broadway musical, but slowly shifts into a colorful lament of unhealthy desires.
Although the album is disarmingly good, Wainwright’s voice takes time to get used to. He is not your average male pop singer. Many of his songs are rooted in classical piano harmonies and Vaudevillian vocal delivery — meaning that he rarely lets the background music take precedent over his own voice. But fortunately for us, his voice is good enough that when he borders on the exorbitant, it remains graceful.
Perhaps the best track on the album, “Poses,”
displays this to poignant perfection. The delicate piano strains in the beginning are set deftly to the song’s theme of a fall from grace in an attempt to capture it.
A close second, “One Man Guy,” has Wainwright abandoning the dominance of his piano in favor of an acoustic guitar. Lines such as “These three cubic feet of blood and bone and meat are all I love and know” show a desire for solitude, although it remains ambiguous whether it’s of his own cupidity or by irreparable circumstance.
At his best, Wainwright keeps his sense of pretentiousness latent — as evident in
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Although a sense of melancholy resonates throughout Poses, he doesn’t slather it on. Rather he lets the intricacy and intimacy of his lyrics and music deliver his emotion with precision. Wainwright’s music is challenging without being abstruse; calculated while maintaining a sense of aloofness; and sad without being depressing.
I like sad songs.