I Made John Listen to Rufus Wainwright

I thought I had him. I thought I had the perfect album that I loved and that John would hate but he foiled me again. Read on to learn more about the great Rufus Wainwright and his debut self-titled album, a thorough breakdown of his music by John and the proper attire to wear to a Rufus Wainwright live performance.

DD: Before this album, what was your impression of Rufus Wainwright? 

JS: I didn’t have any musical impression of Rufus Wainwright.  You have talked about him on occasion, but I never knew what he sounded like. His name is Rufus, though, so I assumed I would be in for something rather unique….and I was correct.

DD: What are your thoughts on the production value of the album? 

JS: Production value was good. There wasn’t necessarily anything that made me think it was poor quality.  Because the face-heavy album cover made me think of every solo artist from the 60s and 70s, I thought it was going to sound like an early Bob Dylan record where the harmonica was turned to 11, while all other instruments rested at 5. I did find it interesting that the drums on “April Fools” were noticeably louder in the mix than the drums in other songs.  Granted, drums only show up on a couple of occasions, but perhaps the drums were more upfront on this one because of its single potential.  Just made that up, but seems like that might happen in the professional music world? 

DD: I’m really in shock. I thought I’d get you on this one but I’m very pleased to find that you enjoyed it. The one thing that I thought would immediately turn you off was his voice. What did you think about it? 

JS: Here is how I would sum up not only his voice, but the entire vibe…It sounded like Thom Yorke’s side project for his side project. This album put me in a jazzy kind of bar with a stage that featured only a piano. Then, Thom Yorke comes out and plays songs from the side project for his side project. The way Rufus sustains syllables vocally reminded me of Thom Yorke. He (both Rufus and Yorke) has this haunting, yet soothing voice that is unique, making the music rather fascinating. I found myself trying to confine the music – and the voice – to a certain genre or time period.  I couldn’t do it. 

Like Thome Yorke, Rufus Wainwright has this unique way of leveraging an unintentionally haunting voice to make songs about love and happiness intriguing.  Intriguing because it is really difficult to compare the entire package to anything else.  I’m sure we will get into this later, but just to note: the piano arrangements and chords sounded like many post-OK Computer songs. Almost like they have borrowed from each other. 

DD: Now I think you’re just being cheeky (trying to stay with the British vibe) by bringing up Thom Yorke and OK Computer. I can’t believe you compared both of those things with Rufus’s self-titled but I’m of course loving it and now won’t be able to listen to either of those albums the same again. 

You say ‘we’ll get to this later’ about the piano arrangements but that’s assuming I have any idea what a piano arrangement is. I like the piano in songs. I like how it sounds in some songs more than other songs. I know the way Billy Joel plays the piano is different from how Thom Yorke or Rufus Wainwright plays the piano but I want to hear from you. Tell me about those piano arrangements. 

Also, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could attend a Rufus Wainwright concert in a small club where he just plays this album? 

JS: On Amnesiac, “Pyramid Song” and “Life in a Glasshouse” come to mind immediately.  On Hail to the Thief, listen to “We Suck Young Blood.” Rufus has a deeper voice, but the delivery is similar to Thom Yorke. I don’t know what piano arrangements means either. I just mean the chords, chord progression, and tempo are similar to many post-OK Computer songs. The piano isn’t as major of a player before KID A. They aren’t just playing 4 major chords, with a minor thrown in on occasion. I guess the piano gives you more of a freedom to do this than a guitar, but these songs are littered with flats and sharps, 7ths, and minors…combinations of chords that aren’t showing up in the Top 100 any time soon.  There is a haunting sound those chords make when you amalgamate them into a song.  The end result is something like Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” or “Baby” from Rufus, as examples.  

I would go to that show, but only if they served Scotch.  I don’t like Scotch, but that scenario would call for Scotch and cigarettes. I don’t like cigarettes either. 

DD: I hope everybody is paying attention.
I like this idea. Cigarettes and scotch. What would we wear? 
Last question, what are you prepared to do now with the rest of Rufus’s catalog? 

JS: I would wear a collared shirt from Structure – you know, the ones that were half button-downs. Probably wear some khakis with a braided belt with some brown loafers that looked like Cole Haans loafers, but are the cheaper version.  In short, then, I would dress like me in 1994. 
I need you to tell me where to go next. He has a ton of albums, and I just need you to tell me what to do next. 

DD: Perfect. I’m there. I’m the worst Rufus Wainwright fan because I can’t tell you where to go next. I have a Lonesome Dove syndrome at times with music, movies and books. After reading Lonesome Dove, I was always afraid to read something else by Larry McMurtry since there was no way it’d be as good as LD so for years I stayed away. For some reason that was true of Rufus and his first album. Though at one point I broke down and bought “Want One” and I remember liking it. Just not nearly as much as I did his first one. 

Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I’m glad you enjoyed the album that I was for sure you’d hate. I guess now I’m ready to see what you’ve got for me to listen to. 

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