Sometimes you just need something unashamedly huge. Stop sniggering at the back. Sometimes you need music that is unafraid of being called pompous, music that is simply driven by a ludicrous dose of ambition and confidence. Sometimes you want a full orchestra, a classical reference and a track that seems to keep building so much it may actually topple over. To summarise, sometimes you just need Rufus Wainwright and, to narrow it down even further, sometimes you just need ‘Want One’.
‘Want One’ is a spectacular record on which the pace rarely lets up. On the odd occasion when Rufus entertains hitherto alien notions of restraint, he can then have you on the verge of tears without much trouble. He is, for want (no pun intended) of a better phrase, an absolute fucker when it comes to melody. Once his songs claw their way into your head you stand pretty much no chance of escape. I spent three months in 2004 with ‘I Don’t Know What It Is’ as the sole track on my internal jukebox. I can’t say that it was a bad thing, and it played a large part in kick-starting my fondness for all things Wainwright, R (and Wainwright, M for that matter.)
I’ve previously mentioned my belief that ‘I Don’t Know What It Is’ is one of the greatest pop songs of modern times and I stand by that. Just past the three and a half minute mark it gets even bigger than it already is and in that magical moment I think you can hear exactly what makes Rufus Wainwright such an outstanding songwriter. He knows when to go in for the kill. He knows how much his audience can take and he takes them to within a fraction of that threshold. He toys with out ears as much as he toys with out hearts. ‘Want One’ is pretty much a masterpiece and, while ‘Poses’ demonstrated earlier in this very countdown that he has made other wonderful records, it’s hard to imagine him ever topping it.
It is, for me at least, largely about the music when it comes to Rufus’ music. I include his unique vocal sound within that definition – at times I’m not sure it matters all that much what he’s saying. Not that he’s not a dab hand when it comes to the lyrics, mind. I remember discussing, some five years ago, how romantic the song ‘Vibrate’ is with a female friend who doesn’t often dish out praise. As a metaphor for a relationship, it’s bloody effective and, as a mid-point in an album that swirls and blasts intently, its a wonderful, temporary ebb in all of that grandiose flow.
The other lyrical heavyweight in this collection comes right at the end. ‘Dinner At Eight’ takes his father to task for his less than admirable parenting skills, telling Loudon Wainwright III, “don’t be surprised if I wanna see the tears in your eyes.” As Rufus delicately but passionately intones “no matter how strong, I’m gonna take you down with one little stone,” I defy anyone listening to not feel something. It’s a beautiful moment on an album full of beautiful moments but it’s so starkly placed at the end of the record that all of the joyous noise that has come before is put back in the box and the mood shifts. ‘Want Two’ may be intended to sit alongside ‘Want One’, but it doesn’t quite measure up and ‘Release The Stars’ suffered from a few misfiring plodders. But even if he never manages another great record, I won’t worry too much. There’s so much to love about ‘Want One’ that his legacy is very much secure.