Release the Stars

by: Rufus Wainwright

If ever there was an artist that embodied both the urbane popular songsmithing of Cole Porter and the epic winged grandeur of Richard Wagner it is Rufus Wainwright. Having not so much perfected as succumbed to this yin-yang pull on his laboriously ambitious and intermittently inspired 2003 and 2004 albums Want One and Want Two, Wainwright once again delivers a baroque collection of songs on 2007's Release the Stars. Recorded at least partially in Berlin and London with Pet Shop Boys lead Neil Tennant, the album finds Wainwright casting himself as a kind of expatriate torch singer, a veritable Marlene Dietrich of emotion who, as he laments on "Going to a Town," is "so tired of America." In that sense, Release the Stars is at once intensely personal and utterly theatrical with Wainwright playing both ingénue and femme fatale in a series of increasingly cinematic pop-operas about true love gone not so much bad, but sad. He pleads to make it to the other side of town, and possibly the other side of monogamy, with his brown-eyed lover in "Tiergarten" and dreams lazily about, "the boys that made me lose the blues and then my eyesight" on "Sanssouci." While these songs are lushly produced, often with full orchestration, and while Wainwright has a knack for pretty, lilting melodies and concrete imagery there is nonetheless a distinct lack of pop hooks here. In fact, only the chugging T. Rex inspired glam rock of "Between My Legs" gets at any real pop meat. The main problem is that it's never quite clear if Wainwright, who has always been to pop music as cabaret is to Broadway, is dressing opera up as pop or vice versa. But when you wear custom Lederhosen as well as Wainwright does throughout the album liner notes, does it really matter? [The CD was also released with a DVD.] ~ Matt Collar

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