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Rufus Wainwright - Unfollow the Rules (Album Review)

Monday, 20 July 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

By welding classical grandeur, flamboyant camp and a cavalcade of genre flourishes to his dramatic baroque-pop compositions, Rufus Wainwright has never adhered to convention. So, the sweepingly introspective ‘Unfollow The Rules’ doesn’t so much herald an iconoclastic reinvention as boil trademark ingredients into an idiosyncratic stew that, although recognisable, also showcases a new found maturity and focus.

Back in the singer-songwriter groove for the first time since 2012’s ‘Out of the Game’, having  recently ensconced himself in the worlds of opera and Shakespearean sonnets, Wainwright has described this comeback as a bookend to the first part of his career and launchpad for the next phase.

Streamlining his approach in a way that reflects how he’s grown comfortable in his artistic skin, there’s a different energy and clarity of purpose here.

But it’s not the product of an artist languishing in some dreaded middle-aged comfort zone, rather the work of a composer whose music boasts a patience and poise that comes from knowing exactly who he is and what he wants to say.

The Joni Mitchell-esque Damsel in Distress embodies how these resplendent compositions unfurl. From gliding rhythmic verses, where sweet background vocals drift merrily in and out, to a cinematic orchestral bridge, skyward-stretching hook and acoustic flower power, flute-fiddling breakdown, its structural components are executed with pin-sharp clarity.   

While the full range of Wainwright’s lush instrumental arsenal is present throughout (cellos, mandolins, pedal steel, clarinets and saxophones, keyboards, multi-tracked vocal harmonies), each embellishment has been deployed to gift his storytelling added resonance in a very measured fashion. Such textures support and enhance, rather than compete with, the singer’s show-stopping croon, allowing his more reflective approach and mesmerising, possibly career best, vocal performances to take centre stage.

A haunting piece of piano heartache, the title track crawls with unfolding desperation as delicately arranged strings, shimmering six-string arpeggios and skipping drum strokes push both narrator and listener to ‘feel the pain’. Elsewhere, Peaceful Afternoon sounds like Wainwright has loaded his piano onto a gondola for a Venetian serenade.  

While the record’s love-centric second act, featuring the epic Romantical Man and refreshingly sentimental, yet complexly drawn, Only The People Who Love, tackle labyrinthine love affairs in a manner both personal and universal, its darker sojourns are equally gripping. The Trump-bashing Devils and Angels (Hatred), for example, is a masterclass in tension and release as horror flick violins stalk with vicious intent until its defiant pop chorus sets forth Wainwright’s desire for revolution and ascension.

Most songwriters craft music that represents exactly who they are at that point in their lives. Bar the fittingly wry Ain’t Too Big, this record lacks the kind of mischievous, fun-filled gems Wainwrighthas excelled at in the past. But such songs don’t belong here and including any would feel like a hollow gesture to satisfy expectations. Instead, ‘Unfollow The Rules’ boasts a purity of intent that remains undiluted by compromise.

Rufus Wainwright Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat June 26 2021 - BATH Bath Forum
Sun June 27 2021 - LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru Theatre
Sat July 31 2021 - GLASGOW Kelvingrove Bandstand
Wed October 06 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall Southampton
Fri October 08 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Tyne Theatre & Opera House
Sat October 09 2021 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Sun October 10 2021 - MANCHESTER Bridgewater Hall
Tue October 12 2021 - SHEFFIELD Sheffield City Hall Oval Hall
Wed October 13 2021 - YORK York Barbican
Fri October 15 2021 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Sat October 16 2021 - LIVERPOOL Eventim Olympia
Mon October 18 2021 - LONDON London Palladium
Tue October 19 2021 - LONDON London Palladium
Wed October 20 2021 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome
Fri October 22 2021 - SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion
Sat October 23 2021 - EXETER Great Hall
Mon October 25 2021 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
Tue October 26 2021 - OXFORD New Theatre - Oxford
Wed October 27 2021 - CARDIFF St Davids Hall

Click here to compare & buy Rufus Wainwright Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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