Rufus Wainwright’s New Album: 4 Best Tracks

Rufus Wainwright is intense about his new album

Rufus Wainwright’s new album, Out of the Game, was released yesterday in the United States, but before I talk about it, I need to take a deep breath.

It’s just exciting, you know? It’s exciting when an artist you’ve followed for years finally releases another brilliant album.

Now, I’m not saying I dislike Wainwright’s most recent records. Release the Stars and especially All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu have a somber, haunting beauty that I enjoy losing myself in. But at the same time, neither record commands my attention like Rufus Wainwright, Poses, and my beloved Want One. For several years now, I’ve assumed that Wainwright would never return to that kind of music—grand and lovely and occasionally mournful, but also lively and urgent and witty.

But now… bang! Out of the Game explores all those facets and more. Working with producer Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele) and guest artists as varied and amazing as Martha Wainwright and Sean Lennon, Rufus has made an album that sounds like an instant classic. It moves through big band swagger, 70s rock, and lonely piano ballads, yet it’s held together by witty lyrics, soaring emotion, and gorgeous, gorgeous singing.

In other words, this is a radio-friendly pop album that leaps into genius territory because it’s also got everything that makes Rufus Wainwright distinct.

Here are some key tracks:

(1) “Out of the Game”

I wrote about this music video, which stars Helena Bnham Carter, a few weeks ago, but the song itself is just as fantastic. Because, seriously. Twangy electric guitars! Shuffling drumbeat! Is it 1974? Was this song originally recorded by The Fifth Dimension? Because it sure is blissed out and groovy with an R&B twist!

Obviously, this songĀ  recalls Mark Ronson’s “neo-vintage” work with Amy Winehouse, but Rufus Wainwright is such a strong artist that he doesn’t get lost in his producer’s tendencies. Instead, he meets him halfway, tossing in his vocal gymnastics and that big, glittery pre-chorus that reminds you even bliss can get intense. The result is the best of Ronson and the best of Rufus, all smashed together.

(2) “Rashida”

Break out your tux and your extra-large bottle of gin, because it’s time for Rat Pack class and boozy declarations. I mean it as a compliment when I saw I want to clean my house to this song. I need something this cool to keep me motivated.

Also: The lyrics make it seem like “Rashida” is about actress Rashida Jones keeping Rufus out of a Vanity Fair party. Is that true? Does anyone know?

[And let’s not forget that Rashida Jones was in an awesome movie at Sundance.]

(3) “Montauk”

My heart may have stopped. This song is a beautiful, operatic message to Rufus Wainwright’s daughter. As he imagines her coming to visit “her dad” and “her other dad,” he predicts happiness and arguments and most of all, love. And for me, the messy life depicted in the lyrics makes the emotion feel real. It sounds like a father who’s scared and excited about every aspect of his daughter’s future, which feels about right.

Oh, also? The singing is amazing.

(4) “Perfect Man”

A classic Rufus Wainwright song where he seems amused by his idiosyncrasies, even as he fears they’ll make him lonely forever. All over a bouncy beat.

Mark Blankenship has written about pop music for NPR and The New York Times. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He recently wondered WTF was happening in Nicki Minaj’s new video.