Rufus Wainwright has spent the last few years making some very unconventional works with his opera Prima Donna and his very subtle, understated piano ballad album All Days Are Nights. I’m not surprised by these works, but I was slightly disappointed that Wainwright took these detours away from pop music (and let’s not forget his extremely faithful performance of Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall concert). Out of The Game marks Wainwright’s return to pop music, and it’s an album that ends up being his best in years.
Out of The Game is really Rufus’s crooner album. While he really showed his vocal pipes on his live performances of Judy Garland, there’s a handful of tracks on this album that really push into some very old crooner territory. While Wainwright’s 2007 album, Release The Stars, had it’s moments there was too much going on at once and most of the album sounded like Wainwright trying to deal with more than he could handle with producing and writing string parts for every song. Out of The Game has Wainwright taking his singing to the next level and putting out some fantastic lyrics while the production and band are left in the hands of Mark Ronson.
Ronson’s previous works are steeped in old seventies soul and radio with some R&B mixed in. While he’s worked with artists like Amy Winehouse and The Black Lips, his work on this album is some of the best work Ronson has done. His addition’s to Wainwright’s sound make’s Rufus a fresh artist again, bringing him out of overly arty material and even adding some new sounds to the mix.
“Out of The Game” is a straight ahead song where Rufus sings about being too old to go with the younger crowd and not understanding them, even going to point of calling the younger generation “suckers” and asking “does your mother know what you’re doing?” The clean guitar and female backing vocals are standard for Rufus, and these female vocals continue throughout most of the record.
“Jericho” is quite upbeat and joyful and the melody is kind of the thing that gets stuck in your head for a while. Rufus singing about the bibical story and once again the backing vocals are here, but this time they really soar and having strings brought in during the second half really takes the song off.
“Rashida” sounds like a song from Release The Stars with the larger than life guitars and almost-too-much backing vocals. Wainwright puts in some of his usual ridiculous lyrics “thank you for giving me a reason to call Miss Portman”. The song goes a little too far towards the end with an female operatic, soul vocal going on a “Great Gig In The Sky” moment.
Wainwright then brings in a new sound to his catalog with “Barbara” sounding like a seventies soul track with it’s smooth bass and slick guitar. Although it does end up sounding distinctly Rufus with the crooning chorus.
“Welcome To The Ball” sounds very Beatles with french horns and swirling strings, it’s Wainwright’s Sgt. Pepper’s. Once again, it’s a massive song that has some great horns and the solo is great. There’s a little lacking from the lyrics on this track, but there’s so many sounds going on that it doesn’t matter.
“Montauk” is a ballad with Wainwright putting his distinct piano playing to use and Ronson adding plenty of synths and beats to the song giving it a quality rarely found on Wainwright’s other material. It’s among the best songwriting here, with a story of Rufus singing to his daughter about their house and the song moves through time with Rufus’s daughter getting older and ending song with Rufus singing about his mother’s spirit being in the ocean. It’s one of the more heartfelt moments on Out of The Game.
Things go into a near dance mode with “Bitter Tears”. The song has some pounding synths and sounds like a logical followup to songs off of Poses. Rufus shows some great vocals on this track, but it’s weak lyrically. The song comes off as more of a showcase for Ronson than Wainwright.
“Respectable Dive” brings Wainwright back into country music that he has shown on “The Maker Makes” for the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. This song is just as good, with close to the same piano part but the additional guitar really makes this stand out. And Wainwright’s lyrics and vocals are quite emotional and effective.
Funk is brought into the mix with “Perfect Man” and it sounds great, but sadly it’s drown out during the chorus. Martha Wainwright comes in on backing vocals and she sounds great alongside Rufus. There’s some light synths and guitars that come in on the chorus, and it sounds nice but I wish it had stuck more with the funky sound of the into.
“Sometimes You Need” is an acoustic ballad where Rufus sings a very simple love song and it’s quite beautiful, going up there with the more sincere moments on Want One.
The next ballad, “Song of You” is quite simple and sounds very identical to “Release The Stars”. But Wainwright’s songwriting is much better this time around and he gives one of his best vocal performances on the album.
Rufus Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle passed away a few years back, and the closing song is his tribute to her. “Candles” is one Wainwright’s most emotionally effective songs and there’s backing vocals by other members of the Wainwright family including Martha Wainwright, Lucy Roche, Anna McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. It’s very simple with acoustic guitars and accordion that slowly build over it’s seven minutes to include some marching snares and letting things sit and reflect.
Wainwright has shown that he can still put everything he’s got out there. While he has grown to be one of the most respected songwriters around today, he’s still putting together challenging material. There’s a little bit of everything on Out of The Game and it ends up being one of his strongest albums to date.
Rating: 8.8 out of 10.