Rufus Wainwright - Poses (2001)
Producer: Pierre Marchand, Greg Wells, Alex Gifford & more
Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk
The Tower of Learning
One Man Guy
In a Graveyard
Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk (Reprise)
Poses is the second studio album by Rufus Wainwright. This time around Wainwright has created a far more varied and diverse offering than his operatic debut; perhaps then, it is not surprising to find that many different people helped produce and mould the shape of this record, while Wainwright took an extended stay in the Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan, New York.
Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk is Wainwright's ode to self-indulgence and the subtle addictions which rule our day to day lives. "Cigarettes and chocolate milk, these are just a couple of my cravings. Everything it seems I like is a little bit stronger, a little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me", sings Rufus, with a sizeable measure of mischievousness and curiosity. It isn't quite up to the standards of the opening Foolish Love from his debut, but all the same it is still a great listen.
But what is up to that standard is the delicious Greek Song. The musicianship is extremely adventurous and incorporates all matter of Asian instruments, but what stands out the most is the delightfully whimsical melody, which is pinned down by a luscious mandolin section.
So, the theatrics are still there, we have established that, but this time the record is fleshed out by a more rock-orientated rhythm section - enter Shadows. The forceful rhythm is provided by the straight-laced funk guitar and drum section, which is then built upon by subtle introductions of both piano and clarinet. Things reach a cinematic zenith during the multi-layered vocal harmonies, which for your information could give Pet Sounds era Beach Boys a run for their money.
California is probably one of the most easily categorised songs in Rufus' entire career. The music carries many influences derived from Americana, complete with an energetic mish-mash of acoustic and electric guitars. It is also one of Rufus' most concise songs, with a running time of less than 3 minutes 30 seconds.
The superb Rebel Prince couldn't be any gayer if it were wearing hot pants and offering you a cocktail with a little umbrella in it. Throughout, the densely textured vocal harmonies are classy to say the very least; in particular they excel during the introduction, where they are given the chance to stand all on their lonesome. I love it at the 55 seconds mark where a little piano refrain kicks in and Rufus ups his game and sings, "Where is my master the Rebel Prince? Back breaking everything, trying to get to me..."
Not surprisingly, the one cover song here, One Man Guy - which was written by Rufus' father, Loudon Wainwright III - sounds entirely different to anything else on Poses. Rather than playing down its folk music origins, Rufus embraces them and turns it into an enjoyably euphoric elegy to bachelorism, complete with enticing vocal harmonies.
Evil Angel should not have made the final cut. Allegedly written by Rufus after being seduced and exploited by a journalist in France, it is a very misguided stab at creating an uneasy atmosphere full of regret. Sure, the introduction is fine and reasonably menacing, but from there on in it is all down hill.
Things come full circle and close with a reprise of Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk. It's essentially the same song, but with a few changes made to the instrumental side of things. For example, there is now a heavy reliance on drum loops, which unfortunately seem to take away more than they add, but as the song goes on it develops further and the additional orchestration starts to flourish and come into its own.
To conclude, Poses is a fantastic second album, but it is slightly inferior to Rufus Wainwright's self-titled debut. I realise that I had nary a bad word to say about it in my review, but this was because I wanted to concentrate on the album's numerous highlights, rather than the few lowlights which bring it down a couple of points.
So, is Poses essential listening? I'd say so, yes.
Read more reviews at www.danielkempreviews.co.uk
Rufus Wainwright is not a popular guy; I mean, have you ever heard of him? But then is popularity a measure of how many people like you, or is it how much people like you? If it is the second type then Rufus is certainly an admired fella. Here he has produced an aching beautiful, ultra camp journey through music, incorporating Counting Crows’ piano splendor, Jeff Buckley soaring vocals and waltzing cadenced prose. The album begins and ends with the superb ‘Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk’ an intriguing song of his own fragility. In typical Wainwright style, the lyrics rise and fall with the orchestra like a boat on the ocean. Rufus leads, with the piano, banjo, cello, drums and viola driving the song forward in a warm wave of sound. Similar to a West end love song; this is gorgeous and blissful throughout. ‘Greek Song’ appears to be stolen from George Harrison, with Slide Guitar and the Mandolin giving the track a wonderful Eastern atmosphere. Here we can also experience Wainwright’s powerful voice, bursting through the octaves with perfection. ‘Poses’, the title track, is a 5minute, camptastic but downbeat, indulgence in his hallmark style. Another gorgeous, sumptuous song. ‘Shadows’ begins in much more of a rock/indie groove that gives way to Wainwright’s paranoiac but sanguine verse. The refrain, “I could be a great star” is repeated to encourage himself out of his own shadows. ‘California’ is an exuberant country rock song, with Rufus adopting an amusing drawl in parts. In the song, he chooses to miss out on California’s “mad traditions” and crazed, unique world by sleeping in, but probably charms its listeners to visit! ‘The tower of learning’ is an odd love song, that has parts of Little Mermaid (listen for the hummm humm humming!) and begins with The Beatles’ ‘Golden Slumbe
rs’ chords I’m sure. The song describes how our protagonist sees the world’s beauty and wisdom in the eyes of a young lady, and wishes to seek out this “copious prize”. An innovative, fascinating track. ‘Grey Gardens’ uses clever refrain and Wainwright’s frequent weighty cadence. A short song about rediscovering a better life, dragging oneself into more interesting greenery. ‘Rebel Prince’ is a simple toe-tapping ballet and extremely gay song. Rufus switches from English to French like Fran Healey in ‘The last laugh of the laughter’ to good effect. A pleasing and easy to listen too song that perhaps carries on a little too long. ‘The consort’ I cannot review because my cd is too scratched to play it! ‘One man guy’ is another country song, this time a slow yarn where Rufus is joined in chorus. One man guy sounds quite biblical and so develops a kind of spiritually soothing. Another interesting style, markedly different to most others found on ‘Poses’. ‘Evil Angel’ starts sinisterly, creeping up on you with harrowing violins and Rufus accentuating words to scary effect. It only gets worse from the middle, when the song evolves into a grandiose, blood-curdling, satanic verse. ‘In a graveyard’ is a brief, simple song with Rufus singing unhurriedly to his piano. This is both tender and regal. ‘Poses’ is a fabulous, feminine, playful, charming record. A great album, but only for those who appreciate that listening to it won’t turn/make you queer.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk
2 Greek Song
6 The Tower of Learning
7 Grey Gardens
8 Rebel Prince
9 The Consort
10 One Man Guy
11 Evil Angel
12 In A Graveyard
13 Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk