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Rufus Wainwright is the king of the theatrical, instrumental, and often strange, all of which make for a killer sound and plenty of headlines. Out of the Game, Wainwright’s newest album and first original recording since early 2010’s All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, is all of the above. Since we last heard a new song from him, things have changed for the artist big-time; as of last year, he’s a new father of a baby girl, mothered by Leonard Cohen’s daughter Lorca and has been working on several side projects.
Don’t be fooled, though – Out of the Game isn’t a gentle reflection on tender fatherhood, nor is it as dark as All Days Are Nights. This is some of Wainwright’s most danceable, lighthearted material to date, a surprise when one considers that his most recent work was in adapting Shakespeare sonnets for the opera or performing his legendary Judy Garland covers at Carnegie Hall. The majority of “Out of the Game” feels like a night at the speakeasy—sometimes loud and filled with lush instrumentation, sometimes a singer brooding with nothing but a piano, always a good time. A couple of tracks—“Perfect Man” and the title track being the main exceptions—are punched up versions of Wainwright’s more regular catchy rock-band fare.
When channeling his unusual style, Wainwright brings the lounge swing like it’s 1943 and pulls vocal cues from both Elton John and his beloved Judy Garland. Featuring full instrumentation from the baritone sax to a full string section on “Welcome to the Ball” and longing, bluesy tunes like “Barbara”, “Rashida”, and “Respectable Drive” (sporting Supremes-style backing vocals with the occasional synth piano riff) make it clear that this is no stripped down sound affair as with some previous Wainwright releases. To catch every instrument, a listener should be sure to take a second listen to push past the artist’s silky vocals and into the astounding production that lies beneath the lyrics. With award-winning producer Mark Ronson (other credits include Macy Gray, Lily Allen, Adele, and Duran Duran) at the album’s helm, Wainwright’s flair for the over-the-top is held intact and blown to new proportions. This isn’t an album that will be the pinnacle of his lyricism, certainly, but in terms of musical variety and concept, Out of the Game is pitch-perfect.
Not surprisingly, what listeners will remember best is the catchy title track, although it feels strangely out of place for showcasing Wainwright’s guitar skill and a more traditional rock band setup. This is something that feels suspiciously missing from the rest of the album. While songs like “Bitter Tears” make me want to slap on some leg-warmers, this album also marks a return to some of his earlier material.“I’m out of the game,” Wainwright croons, backed by a chorus of ladies. “I’ve been out for a long time now/I’m lookin’ for something/That can’t be found on the main drag”. Calling himself “Out of the Game” is classic Wainwright dramatism—he’s more in the game than ever with a new style, an international tour, and more synth-y goodness than ever before. He’s still looking for something, and we’re happy to take the ride with him.