Album review: Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Out of the Game’

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One of the best opening lyrics so far this year comes near the middle of Rufus Wainwright’s seventh studio album, “Out of the Game.” Following a stutter-step, loping piano-drum introduction suggesting a Patsy Cline ballad, the singer with a perfect tenor starts with a suggestion: “Let’s meet in a respectable dive/On a somewhat safe street/And have a beer.” Over the next five minutes, Wainwright offers intimate recollections to an unnamed lover, and one of the best lyrical turns of his career, on an album that follows through on the promise of his 1998 debut and his impressive, if at times uneven, work between then and now.

One of the catchiest and most immediately accessible albums Wainwright, 38, has made, “Out of the Game” was produced by Mark Ronson and features as its backing band the Dap-Kings, best known for its work supporting both Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse. Other guests include Nels Cline of Wilco, Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow and guitarist Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all of whom steer the Dap-Kings and company away from a retro vibe and toward something much more vivid.

At its best, “Out of the Game” glimmers with magical arrangements, strange structural U-turns, surprising solo accents, gospel-choir exclamation points, fuzzed out guitar lines and an overall sense of creative confidence that comes with experience and enthusiasm. On “Rashida,” a smooth tenor saxophone glides alongside Wainwright’s mournful voice and then, out of the blue, an operatic soprano arrives to offer improvisation. “Perfect Man” sounds time-traveled from 1967 pop radio, then augmented with whispers of ’80s synths.


The last few years have been transformative for Wainwright. His mother, singer Kate McGarrigle, died in 2010, and in 2011, Wainwright and his partner became fathers (with the help of Lorca Cohen, Leonard’s daughter -- talk about some genes). You can hear this wonder, this depth of emotion, throughout. “Montauk” seems a letter to their daughter to be read when she’s grown. “Bitter Tears” is a would-be dance-floor anthem about an early morning, tear-filled cab ride, concluding with the line, “I’m discussing with the morning, and it’s going to be OK,” turning a bummer cruise into song of hope. This ability to maneuver through complex emotions is one of Wainwright’s strengths and makes “Out of the Game” an essential recording.

Rufus Wainwright
“Out of the Game”
Three-and-a-half stars out of four

[For the Record, 4:33 p.m. May 3, 2012: An earlier version of this post said Lorca Cohen was the surrogate mother instead of the biological mother.]


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