Wainwright keeps the music fresh by going back to the basics on ‘Game’

PIANO MAN | Rufus Wainwright channels his inner-1970s Elton on his seventh album, ‘Out of the Game,’ but stays true to his own brand of smart and eclectic chamber pop.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer


3.5 out of 5 stars

Rufus Wainwright
Decca Records


Rufus Wainwright never disappoints. Just when you think you have him figured out, he pulls a new trick out of his beret. Even returning to the sensibilities of his early albums, Rufe can still churn out major freshness. Wainwright describes Out of the Game, his seventh CD, as “the most pop album” he ever made. I call it merely splendid.

Working with producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran), Wainwright does deliver some of his best contemporary work yet. The songs are crisp and Ronson’s producing is spot-on, evoking a ‘70s pop/rock/Elton vibe while staying distinctly true to Wainwright’s eclectic aura.

They set the tone quick with the title track. The immediate guitar twang is almost deceptive as the opener to a bad country song, but shifts into bluesy pop with laid-back chill. Wainwright’s vocals are loose but enthusiastic. Without the weight of his previous projects — the stripped-down Songs for Lulu or the live recording of Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall — he sounds like a guy who just broke free from the burden of a downer boyfriend or nowhere job. Giddy, some may call it.

He keeps a consistent vibe but shines on “Barbara” and “Welcome to the Ball.” The former has a tint of soul in its groove that melds with the Canadian’s distinctive growl — it’s vocal peanut butter and jelly. “Ball” elevates the album’s tone by tossing in a horn section and a lively, drum-heavy beat. If the album had to be summed up in one song, “Ball” is it — it packs a joyous punch.

Wainwright turns on the charm with the ballads “Respectable Dive” and the touching “Sometimes You Need.” “Dive” is his torch song that sleepily moves along punctuated by his gorgeous vocal runs. He peered into my soul with “Sometimes” singing random lists (Sometimes you need a stranger to talk to / Sometimes you need to go to the observatory); you can’t help but think, “Oh, Rufus gets me.”

Although “Bitter Tears” gives good ABBA-esque energy, Wainwright gets a little lazy on his lyrics and relies too much on repeated lines. Always one for a smart couplet, there are slight chinks in the armor with lyrics like I’m just discussing with the morning / and it’s gonna be okay. Repeat.  A minor complaint, ultimately, because we’ve come to expect magnificent tapestries of lyrics by Wainwright. But I’ll give him a break. What he delivers with Out of the Game is a gift.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2012.