Song of the Day #4,501: ‘I Don’t Know What It Is’ – Rufus Wainwright

When I was at the height of my Rufus Wainwright mania, in the mid-2000s, my go-to answer for “favorite album ever” was Wainwright’s Want One. So it’s kind of a no-brainer as my #1 album of 2003.

Wainwright has released only two pop albums in the last 13 years, detouring into opera and piano instrumentals, so my devotion has waned. I couldn’t really get into the album he released this year, Unfollow the Rules.

But diving into Want One this week while writing these blog entries, I was immediately reminded why this album blows me away. It’s a baroque pop masterpiece, brimming with candy-coated melodies and lush instrumentation, overflowing with sorrow, humor and love.

This is a big, brash kitchen sink album on which every left-field decision works beautifully. From songwriting to performance to production, it finds Wainwright at the peak of his powers.

Seventeen years later, he’s never come close to topping it, but how could he have? This album is as good as it gets.

I don’t know what it is
But you got to do it
I don’t know where to go
But you got to be there
I don’t know where to fall
But I know that it’s comfortable, well
I don’t know where it is

Putting all of my time in learning to care
And a bucket of rhymes I threw up somewhere
Want a locket of who made me lose
My perfunctory view of all that is around
And of all that I do

So I knock on the door, take a step that is new
Never been here before
Is there anyone else who’s too
In love with beauty
Playing all of the games
And thinks three’s company

Is there anyone else who has slightly mysterious bruises
I don’t know what it is
Sick and looking around at friendly faces
All declaring a war on far off places
Is there anyone else who is through
With complaining about what’s done unto us

So I knock on the door
And I am on a train
Going God knows where to
To get me over, to get me over

Get me heaven or hell, Calais or Dover
I was hoping the train was my big number
Docking in Santa Fe and the Atchison Topeka
But we’re chugging along, done away by the crossing hands

We’ll heading for Poland or limbo or Lower Manhattan
Find myself running around

I don’t know what it is
To get me over

I don’t know what it is
To get me over
I don’t know what it is
To get me over
To get me over

You gotta do it
You gotta be there

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,501: ‘I Don’t Know What It Is’ – Rufus Wainwright

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    It’s too bad Rufus hasn’t continued to infuse his considerable talents into a more accessible form as he did so successfully with this album, but I guess artists tend to follow their muse notwithstanding pressure from record companies or their accountants.

  2. willedare says:

    Thanks for a reminder of this great album.

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