It would probably be easier just to dislike Rufus Wainwright to push him away into the case file of Elton John's superfluous namechecks, or glue him to the heel of Chloë Sevigny's East Village/Interview-mag disinterest stroll. Wainwright does, after all, seem to possess more pretension in his nimble pinkie than most of us can claim in our whole bodies. With a shamelessness just short of Tori Amos, he mellifluously contorts vocal histrionics full of intimate rehab details over oh-so-precious orchestral movements.
But, more importantly, Wain-wright's beautiful mess is difficult not to love, if not simply for its uniqueness, then for its candor. "Is there anyone else who has slightly mysterious bruises?" he asks the world, and a good number nod in agreement.
And so it is that Wainwright releases his latest offering, Want Two, something of an answer to last year's Want One the critically acclaimed black-sheep album tasked with the difficult press junket of explaining both his relationship with his father (old-time folkie Loudon Wainwright III) and his serious addiction to methamphetamine. Want One soundtracked the crazy-eyed optimism of coming out of the dark. Want Two (which was recorded in tandem with its predecessor, but shelved for a later release due to label concerns) is a far more minor-keyed reality check, a largely somber take on the personal and societal incongruities that would make a thoughtful prodigy go south, musically shuffling around in some odd ragtime discontent.
"There's a fire in the friary, and an ogre in the Oval Office," he sings on "Waiting for a Dream". "Once again we will all be broken. Now can I finally sleep again?"
Other songs, like "Gay Messiah" and "The Art Teacher," brush up against expected gay themes, the latter detailing an affinity for a particular young professor that follows him still, so much so that he will "never love again." Even the minstrel twang of album closer "Old Whore's Diet," with its downturned jaunt, can't seem to shake the mood, pushing momentarily into a Radiohead come-down with layers and rounds of wailing vocal tracks. All here is very over the top and very under the weather.
As a means of misery antidote, the CD includes a live DVD filmed last year at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore Auditorium. Footage includes tracks from both Want sets, in addition to a couple from their more breezy predecessor, Poses. Occasionally, Wainwright's lighter side pours through ("California"), but for the most part it's more accomplished sadness, culminating in a show-stealing take on the Cohen-penned, Buckley-covered classic, "Hallelujah." Altogether a serious package and one that deserves serious notice.