This record proved to be a breath of fresh air after the overcooked swamp of a record that was ‘Release The Stars’. New converts will not be found, and I know how much he splits opinion even amongst you splendid folk, but those who’ve been in love before will be in love again. It’s a dense work which requires some love and attention but it gives but as much as it takes once you’re ensnared.
Never one to hide his emotions previously, here Wainwright offers a sparse but staggeringly heartfelt collection of songs for voice and piano, influenced, at least in part, by the long-term illness and recent passing of his mother. After experiments in bombast and imitating Judy Garland, this is all about the bare bones and, held against the aforementioned previous outing, the relative simplicity is very welcome. While three Shakespearean sonnets set to music are successful without being showy, Wainwright saves the very best till last. Lyrically, album closer ‘Zebulon’ is endearingly direct, “my mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera, I’m in love, but let’s not talk about it,” and home to his best vocal performance to date.
Having seen the live show which accompanied this album, which involved Wainwright performing the entire record in full, in order, with a request of no applause between songs, I actually found I loved it just a little bit more. The funereal procession with which he entered and exited the stage did make my soul itch a little but the overwhelming aura of grief, combined with no little sprinkle of pomposity, somehow ended up endearing the record to me even more rather than, to use modern parlance, ‘getting on my tits’. As I said at the start of this piece, do not approach this if you’ve already decided that you hate his voice, face or other specific parts of his anatomy. Your opinion will not be changed. But my, this is a bold record both in terms of what it sits alongside this year and also its bedfellows in Wainwright’s catalogue. A surprise triumph.