|by Blair Fraipont|
|Artist: Rufus Wainwright Album: Want Two Label: Geffen Records
Hardly a year after the release of Want One, Rufus Wainwright plows ahead with a wonderful pastiche of sounds with Want Two. Whereas the former album seemed to drift toward dreamland by the end, Want Two is a solid and consistent effort which captivates all of Wainwright's lyrical and vocal talents. There are certain performances as with "The Art Teacher" which reaches the upper echelons of thoughtfully constructed song writing which match the vigor and passion of songs such as "I Don't Know What It Is" from Want One. However, some songs on Want Two may seem to linger a bit, yet it still holds out as a well-designed playful and meaningful piece of art.
Want Two works like the second half of some bizarre musical filled with a dozen characters spanning the ages, from creepy harlequin performers to distraught figures from Tennessee Williams to flamboyant heroes of our times. "Agnus Dei" slowly opens Want Two with sheer orchestral poetry akin to the second movement of Dvorak's "New World Symphony." This is all seemingly squashed by the arrival of "The One You Love." As each song ends and the next commences, the scenery changes as a new vignette is introduced. And what makes the record brilliant is the way in which they flow elegantly into one another despite differences in aural textures.
The musically simplistic but lyrically rich, "The Art Teacher" stands out as the most striking song on Want Two. One may sense the light touch of Leonard Cohen in the subject matter, but the song is performed with grace only exuded by Rufus. The seriousness is the centerpiece to the bookend of the humorous baroque powdered wig frost of "Little Sister" and the bitterly playful lyricism of "Hometown Waltz." Wainwright plays with these sounds carefully like the slow dramatic changes of color from summer to fall without sounding pompous, pretentious or overtly contrived. Likewise, the dark humor of "Gay Messiah" is bound and tied to the slightly sodden orchestral dirges, "This Love Affair" and "Memphis Skyline."
Rufus Wainwright's voice which is unique and awkwardly wonderful (some may find it acidic or unpleasant) is the hero that makes it through this torrid and bittersweet second act of Want alive.
As the Bollywood-tinged "Old Whore's Diet" plays on for nearly nine minutes the cast take their bows and elegantly exit the stage. Rufus is alone and proud in the center with warm tears as the curtain descends over the ornate Victorian set.
Artist: Gwen Stefani Album: Love, Angel, Music, Baby Label: Interscope Records
In some ways, Love, Angel, Music, Baby shares Rufus Wainwright's delight in presenting a colorful hodgepodge of pop indulgences. With Gwen Stefani the music resembles a more modern mixture of sounds. You get everything from the infectious electro clash of "What You Waiting For?" to the early-mid nineties rhythm and blues slow jam of "Luxurious." All this and more as Stefani parades through each genre with the brattish display of some perverted cartoon character gone amuck in the studio.
With a slew of guest performers and producers (Eve, members of New Order, and Andre 3000 make appearances, just to name a few) the music towers with its support. The record pays homage to the world of 1980s pop. The music is littered with reminiscent touches of techno and 80s gimmickery.
The whole experience of this record is pure entertainment. From the saccharine synths of "Cool" to the cheesy mid-80s groove of "Crash" this album should prove to be a fun affair for most. Even the awkward closing civil rights inspired "Long Way to Go" can't taint Stefani's party.
"This shit is Banana's," Gwen calls out in the middle of the bleacher stomp gusto of "Hollaback Girl." After the album closes one can surely say that Love, Angel, Music, Baby is much more than bananas. It's surely more than out-of-season imported papaya; it is a pop gem.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 1 February 11, 2005