Hearing today’s random selection drift out of my headphones immediately put me back in 2004, when Rufus Wainwright’s Want Two was released. I remember lying on the floor of the same room where I’m writing this post now, lyric sheet in hand, taking in the newest release by one of my favorite artists.
Want Two was Wainwright’s fourth album, and the second part of the Want suite. Want One had quickly become one of my favorite albums and cemented Wainwright’s position in my personal pantheon. This album delivered on the promise of its predecessor while exploring new musical territory.
Best Songwriters – #6 – Rufus Wainwright
I went back and forth several times between including Rufus Wainwright in my top five songwriters and leaving him at #6. Ultimately I went with this placement for reasons I’ll get into next week, but it was a hard decision. Part of me agrees with Elton John’s assessment of Wainwright as “the greatest songwriter on the planet.”
Hyperbole aside, it’s hard to deny the writing chops of a man whose pop music is influenced by Chopin and Puccini as well as The Beatles and his folk singing father, Loudon Wainwright III. Rufus Wainwright brings a theatrical sensibility to his music that simply isn’t approached by anybody else working today. He is a fascinating blend of classic and modern styles and attitudes.
Want Two contains a lot of ambitious and emotional music: album opener ‘Agnus Dei’ is a string-drenched, hyper-passionate Catholic hymn performed in Latin; closer ‘Old Whore’s Diet’ is a 9-minute epic alternating between a capella crooning and Mediterranean dance beats; ‘Little Sister’ is a baroque treat that, stripped of its vocals, would sound like it was written in the early 18th century.
But the song I love the most of all is the simplest tune on the album — the acoustic stroll of ‘Gay Messiah.’
Want Two came out a year after Want One, and the main distinction I’d draw between the two albums is that this one takes a more feminine perspective while the first was more masculine.
That dichotomy is borne out in the cover art… Want One depicting Wainwright dressed as a knight in a suit of armor while Want Two depicts him as a lady in waiting. In an embarrassing show of homophobia, the record company released Want Two with a giant sticker of critics quotes placed directly over Wainwright in drag. As if anybody buying his album would be scared off by that image?