Review of Rufus Wainwright's 'All Days Are Nights'

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rufus Wainwright



Created when Rufus Wainwright's mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle, was dying of cancer, "All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu" is both an elegy and a love letter to McGarrigle, who died in January, and to the disparate musical forms -- sonnets, arias, piano pop -- it comprises.

Consisting of songs for piano and voice, "Lulu" recalls, though probably not on purpose, Wainwright's spare, self-titled 1998 debut. After that release, he spent the next decade hopscotching from folkie-with-a-piano-style pop to lavish, outré-for-its-own-sake cabaret, with pit stops in opera (his "Prima Donna" debuted in 2009) and Judy Garland homage.

The solemn, solitary "Lulu" can't rightly be considered a back-to-basics disc, since Wainwright has never before been so unadorned, so shorn of his Rufus-isms, of his expectedly extravagant arrangements and arch, exuberantly frothy pop. "Lulu" is divided into "regular" piano ballads (like "Martha," a musical answering machine message from Wainwright to his sister regarding their mother's deteriorating condition), Shakespearean sonnets (10, 20 and 43) scrupulously set to music, and "Les Feux D'Artifice T'Appellent," an aria from "Prima Donna" that is sung in French.

Neither explicitly about death nor about life (the sonnets arguably excepted), "Lulu" is an exquisite, profoundly intimate grab bag of not necessarily complementary musical ideas, draped in black crepe. In other words, it's difficult. Each song seems more inaccessible than the last, each is performed with a determined lack of sentimentality that somehow makes it even sadder.

-- Allison Stewart

Recommended tracks:

"Martha," "Who Are You New York?," "Zebulon"

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