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Rufus Wainwright

WANT TWO  (Geffen) • Rufus Wainwright

There's a classic Peanuts cartoon that shows Linus and Charlie Brown gazing up at the clouds on a summer day. In their shapes, Linus sees the profile of painter Thomas Eakins, a map of the British Honduras and a Biblical scene of the stoning of Stephen. After these erudite observations, an embarrassed Charlie Brown admits that all he sees is a ducky and a horsie.

This cartoon comes to mind whenever I think of Rufus Wainwright in relation to most contemporary singer-songwriters. Rufus is definitely not a ducky-horsie type.

On the sequel to last year's wonderful Want One (Rufus describes this as the "artier" side two), he comes across like Puccini at the Rhodes, singing rhapsodic melodies and tossing out lyrical references to John Singer Sargent, Ophelia and Greek mythology. He even opens the record with a few lines sung in Latin.

Precious? In anyone else's hands, it might be, but Wainwright's talent is opulent and fearless. And what makes it all work is his hugely romantic heart. Ballads such as "Peach Trees" and "This Love Affair" swell with honeyed melodies and poetry for a beloved. "The Art Teacher" is the bittersweet memory of a girl who never found a love as rich as the one she had for a high school teacher. And "Memphis Skyline," an ode to the late Jeff Buckley, imagines rescuing the singer from the depths of the Mississippi for a one night stand--"So southern furies / Prepare to walk for my harp / I have strung and I will leave with him."

As on his last two albums, each song is as exquisitely crafted and designed as one of Faberge's eggs. The vocal arrangements--mostly Rufus with his sister Martha--are especially ornate, with counter-melodies darting through washes of oohs and aahs. It's the kind of rich and detailed pop music that will reward multiple listens for years to come.

Rufus is definitely taking the high road at a time when the low road is bumper to bumper with temporary pop stars and sound-alike acts. Here's to his continued journey.  • Bill DeMain

[Want Two comes as a CD/DVD package. The DVD is a full-length concert video, Live at the Fillmore, featuring 20 songs new and older, brilliantly performed by Rufus and his band.]

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rufuswainwright.com      geffen.com

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