Rufus certainly has the hype machine mastered. The critical darling and magazine fashion spread fave won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) for Most Promising Artist before he even had an album out; he was also one of the first artists signed to Dreamworks thanks to a demo his semifamous dad, Loudon Wainwright III, slipped through the system. Dreamworks has dropped a bundle on Wainwright’s first two albums (including last year’s Poses), and you have to admire the label for sticking with him even though he hasn’t had a major hit. Yet.
What Wainwright does have is a growing body of work that’s both classically pop and slightly askew, boasting operatic and classical music influences. Take Want One‘s opening track, “Oh What a World,” a world-weary lament Noel Coward would be proud of. The thumping tuba line and swelling orchestration (built around the main theme of Ravel’s Bolero) almost overwhelm Wainwright’s mush-mouthed vocals, making him sound even more lost and forlorn.
Wainwright is still searching for perfect love, and while his anguished quest may be a trial for him, it provides plenty of kicks for lovers of overblown sentiment and aching melancholy. “Vibrate,” a classical theme borrowed from Bizet’s Carmen, tells a bathetic tale of unrequited love, with a dash of humor that keeps it balanced between wry self-awareness and self-delusion. “Harvester of Hearts” sounds like a country torch song as composed by Brian Wilson, while “Movies of Myself” has a big Beatlesque beat and combines Lennon’s lyrical cynicism with a soaring McCartney-style melody.