For some, Rufus Wainwright will always be a master of dramatics. He is their coruscating vision in the darkness, possessing a voice that cannot help but flood every syllable with such high emotion that he leaves you clinging helplessly to the wreckage of melody waiting for the gale force to subside. Such furiously bombastic feelings were bled dry after the punishing grief-soaked tribute to his late mother All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu that it was psychologically impossible for Rufus to wring out any further midnight melancholia.
He has now emerged blinking into the sunlight from his dark night of the soul. Out Of The Game is for the people who prefer their Rufus with a sprinkling of sugar. It’s his trip back to the heady, carefree ‘California’ so vividly described on Poses. A tribute to ’70s Laurel Canyon living, it conjures up a West Coast lounge where Fleetwood Mac and Harry Nilsson party at James Taylor’s. The opening title track is a loose, free spirited slice of mischief, all twanging guitars and vamping piano like a cut off from one of his father’s albums but with a chorus that unfurls that voice like a white flag of surrender.
What Mark Ronson seems to have reignited in Wainwright is his pop sensibilities. Before the operas, the diva, the lavish box sets and pervading sense of seriousness there was the lighthearted, wisecracking, crack-taking Rufus, the bon vivant whose devil may care attitude charmed and seduced. This is the album that recalls that Rufus, the one at his most uplifting, the Rufus of ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Shadows’ ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk’.
Tracks like the irrepressible ‘Jericho’ with its buoyancy, blistering backing vocals and caustic wit is an almost older brother to ‘April Fools’ an older not so gullible brother who can now play the best of them at their own game. Even ‘Bitter Tears’ with its snappy almost synth quality and spiky lyrics feels like a refugee from the early Wainwright catalogue that could have easily been slotted into his debut album .This sprightly, up-tempo nature unravels throughout the album, the playful ‘Welcome To The Ball’ and ‘Rashida’ are full of ingenious baroque pop bravado.
As welcoming as this levity is, it’s on tracks where the usual Rufus insular expressions of anxiety, resentment and disappointment have been replaced with solace and empathy that the album truly shines. ‘Barbara’ his touching ode to his faithful publicist is a sparkling, soulful comfort blanket, where his voice envelopes rather than blusters. This tone reaches its apex on the quietly moving ‘Montauk’ an ode to his daughter Viva Katherine that casts Rufus and his partner in the roles of the eccentric Beale sisters of ‘Grey Gardens’ shuffling around arguing in kimonos, hoping she accepts them into her life. It’s Rufus at his most heartbreakingly vulnerable since ‘Dinner at Eight’ but with a lighter more delicate touch.
For all the relaxed, MOR tones Ronson germinates Rufus manages to sneak in one final flourish of emotional intensity on album closer ‘Candles’ a bagpipe-infused funeral march that reveals a son still in mourning but now with a brightly lit future of possibility and optimism ahead.