I have listened to Rufus Wainwright’s new album all the way through just once – on Monday as I ran on the lakefront. While not giddy with anticipation, I have been interested to see what the singer/songwriter came up with on this occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death; the album, released a week before the widely-lauded literary anniversary, is entitled Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets.
The album is a marked departure from Rufus’s crooning style that fans like me have come to know and love. Instead, Wainwright has created a work of art, a clearly thoughtful and narrative piece. The sixteen tracks on the album flow through mixtures of spoken word and operatic arias, some conjuring music theatre, with only two songs that conjure the familiar Rufus – the title track Take All My Loves and the reprise version of A Woman’s Face. For what it’s worth, iTunes classifies the album’s tunes as classical.
The story of the album is told, in large part, by guest artists. Rufus has always been a fan of incorporating the talent of others into his albums, and on this project he includes the stunning soprano Anna Prohaska, actors Helena Bonham Carter and Carrie Fisher, and, just when you think Wainwright has become so serious that surely no fun could ever have entered the composition process on this particular album, William Shatner.
So far, as I’m poking around again this morning, I’m finding the album intriguing. Always literary, always full of allusion, it’s not as if this album is without antecedents in Wainwright’s oeuvre – if you’ve ever wondered if Rufus is directly conjuring Freddy Mercury’s more operatic moments, as I have, you will certainly feel such allusions again. I am also totally taken with one of the more folksy tracks – Florence Welch’s voice moves to center stage for “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,” a catchy and lovely number.
But, as readers can tell, I do love Rufus’s voice – that’s one of the main reasons I love the artist, or any recording artist, for that matter. The quality and uniqueness of the vocal instrument is, in large part, what I go for in my favorite vocal artists. Generally speaking, Rufus’s playful, imaginative and erudite lyrics add a whole lot to his music, but without his voice this collection lacks a strongly unifying component. I come away from this project as I come away from some contemporary multi-media installations in some of my favorite art galleries: definitely not sad I saw it, hoping I will spend more time with it in the future, but a little worried that I’m missing something; I should have taken that Shakespeare seminar during undergrad.
Thanks for reading.