Rufus Wainwright, Want One (Dreamworks, 2003)

As the son of Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle and the brother of Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright certainly has pedigree. He makes a point of following the beat of his own drum, though, eschewing the more straightforward folk of his parents in favor of an alternation between lush, often operatic rock arrangements and distinctively eccentric pop. His third album Want One, which came out in 2003, reflects many sides of a complicated musical personality.

Wainwright sets the tone for the album quickly with his opening song "Oh What a World," in which he sings about straight men reading fashion magazines to a musical arrangement inspired partly by Maurice Ravel and partly by Tom Waits. He plays around with different singing approaches throughout the album, from very elaborate falsetto harmonies on songs like "Go or Go Ahead" to jazz era crooning on "Harvester of Hearts." He also makes references in his lyrics that require a program to keep up with, with allusions to Britney Spears, Pinocchio, Judy Garland movies, and the TV shows Three's Company and Third Rock from the Sun. When not making observations of the world from his endearingly peculiar perspective, Wainwright often spouts off stream-of-conscious lyrics; on the song "Movies of Myself," in which Wainwright sings about "looking for a reason, a person, a painting, a Saturday Evening Post edition by Jesus, an old piece of bacon never eaten by Elvis."

Rufus Wainwright may be something of an acquired taste, but you have to respect any artist who goes wherever his muse leads him and dares his audience to follow along. Despite being a bit challenging at points, Want One is sufficiently eclectic that there's probably something on it to please anybody. I was most partial to the upbeat "Beautiful Child," but it's the kind of album where you could ask fourteen people to name their favorite song and get fourteen different answers.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

"I Don't Know What It Is" performed on Letterman

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