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music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Poses

Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Genre: Rock
Release Date: June 2001

Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

Rufus Wainwright is annoying and compelling and everything in between. As on his self titled debut, on Poses, Wainwright is a striking performer who throws himself fearlessly into his songs and isn't worried about looking like a fool. But his cocky flamboyance isn't as novel as it was on his debut. The new songs are quite depressing and even more self centered. Often Wainwright's concerns aren't so interesting. A lot of the songs on Poses are big but empty. I can't deny that Wainwright is often charming and fascinating but I don't see much in a lot of the songs, many of which are like cabaret or show tunes and not much to my liking.

Poses is best when Wainwright loosens up and adds some substance to the generally airy sound. It's hard not to like California. It's the only song produced by Ethan Johns who gives it a buoyant but substantial sound, with glimmering piano and backing vocals, and plays a clean, Byrdsy guitar solo. Wainwright is appealing relaxed, shifting his voice's speed, slithering around a lyric that finds fear but also amusement, referring to "my new grandma Bea Arthur", in a "sea of neon." Johns also adds a solid beat to Grey Gardens, a Death In Venice allusion. Grey Gardens' sound is good and rich with layers of Wainwright's vocals and his piano intertwined with Benmont Tench's organ. Except for their shared penchant for self examination(and sometimes self pity), I think of Rufus as an orchestrated, sincere, somewhat superficial opposite to his goofy, wise guy folkie dad Loudon Wainwright III but Rufus' cover of One Man Guy works well. He finds a pure beauty, keeping it simple with a restrained vocal that doesn't push the double entendre of a guy gay doing Loudon's song about being O.K. on his own, accompanied only by sister Martha's good harmonies and Teddy Thompson, another son of a folk rock veteran, playing acoustic guitar.

Wainwright is charmingly relaxed about his sexual orientation. It's simply a given in his work. However, with his love of dramatic flourish, Wainwright often seems like a gay stereotype. Wainwright's charms and excesses are on display from Poses' start. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk typically shifts back and forth from seriousness and melancholy to theatrical silliness, declaring innocuously that everything I like, like the things in the title, is "a little bit harmful" then, more seriously, that his cravings extend to "those other things which for several reasons we won't mention" which are "a little bit deadly" and tend to make one "so brokenhearted" but concluding the song goofily: I'm "a little bit heiress, a little bit Irish, a little bit tower of Pisa." The music has a similar split personality, opening simply with Wainwright and his piano then overdoing things by adding a full orchestra. I prefer a second version of Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk that gets a little grounding from a hip hop beat. Ornate music, with a dobro and exotically played violin, matches Greek Song's romantic image of vacationing and immersing himself in a world of people "who turn me on." Poses' music is more austere but equally theatrical. Wainwright mocks his world("there's never been such grave a matter as comparing our new brand name black sunglasses") but his weary, serious delivery indicates he sees the decision whether to resist the pull of a superficial, fashionable world, where "life is a game and true love is a trophy" as truly difficult. Shadows is another moody, pretentious("I could be a great star still I'm far from happy") piece that doesn't really go anywhere but, with production by Alex Gifford of the big beat electronic group Propellerheads and a good beat from Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, it has good atmosphere and edge. The Tower Of Learning is narcissistic and overdramatic(Wainwright emotes, "I really do fear that I'm dying") but sweet. A drum machine kicks in and the song transforms from a mopey piano piece to giddily romantic as Wainwright sings of seeing "all the sights of Paris inside your iris." Rebel Prince doesn't meet the lyric's stated goal to rid my "mind of all of its preciousness" and instead is annoyingly precious and dainty. Wainwright breaks into French in the middle and ends by repeatedly singing "marigold." The Consort has romance novel imagery of a "beautiful queen" in a time of war. The music, with trumpets sounding, is similarly romanticized. Musically and lyrically, Evil Angel is the most stylized of Poses' many very stylized songs. Wainwright really throws himself into his vocal as the strings swirl around it. Then comes the morbid poetry of In A Graveyard.

I'm sure that some love Poses' depressing, theatrical pieces. There is something fascinating about Wainwright's dramatic music and view of the world. I find Poses' stylish songs overly precious, lacking in substance and often just vapid.



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