Music is ageless. Time passes, eras fade and new genres are invented but these things don’t destroy the music from our memories. This is the excuse I will use for only recently being made aware of the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. My personal music interest can sometimes be dated or specified to a specific genre. Meaning although Wainwright has been active in the musical world since 1988, it took for a Samsung TV advert to make me aware of his captivating music.
Listen to Rufus’s cover of ‘Across The Universe’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAe1lVDbLf0
Wainwright caught my attention instantly from the simple fact he had the guts to cover the song. Taking an artist’s song and making it your own whilst still remaining respectful to the original is a tough task but even more so when those original artists are The Beatles. Wainwright went above and beyond with ‘Across the Universe’, preforming a hypnotic vocal sound to continue the exceptionally moving feeling the song creates, nearly bringing me to tears the first time I heard it. Needless to say he made an impression.
Upon further research I discovered Wainwright has been popular for some years, his music always circulating and realised I had heard his music before but mistook it for other artists. Wainwright has a sound similar to that of English rock band Keane, with a similar out of body, otherworldly voice and resonating sound but more in the pop genre. Wainwright’s cover of ‘Across the Universe’ has similarities to both Keane’s ‘Bedshaped’ and ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. Even with this distinctive comparison Rufus Wainwright still manages to maintain a unique sound to his own music with songs like ‘Going To A Town’, ‘Out of The Game’ and ‘Rules and Regulations.’ The artist’s more mainstream songs dip their toes in the pop genre but inherently belong to baroque rock (a fusion of rock music with classical elements). However Wainwright broadens his music horizons by also releasing songs in the indie rock and folk genres.
Listen to examples of Rufus’s genre blending here:
‘Going to a Town’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtVyl402W5s
‘Out of the Game’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KvTDeHlIfI
‘Rules and Regulations’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_TxPQKcG7w
Rufus Wainwright was born in New York but after his parents’ divorce lived most of his youth in Montreal and has dual US and Canadian citizenship. Starting his career in music at a young age, Wainwright had an impressive start. He had a taste of the artist’s life at the tender age of thirteen when he began to play the piano and toured with The McGarrigle Sisters and Family folk group. The group consisted of himself, his sister, his mother and his aunt. He earned himself a nomination in 1989 at the age of fourteen for his song ‘I’m a-Runnin’’ at the Genie Awards for Best Original Song. Then in 1990 he was nominated at the Juno Awards for Most Promising Male Vocalist. During his young life he had an interest in opera leading to the genre heavily influencing his later music such as ‘Barcelona’ that features lyrics from the libretto of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. As well as this Wainwright has cited his musical interests as Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Judy Garland to name a few. Paying tribute to other artists like River Phoenix in ‘Matinee Idol’ and Jeff Buckley in ‘Memphis Skyline.’
As Wainwright became older he performed weekly shows at the Cafe Sarajevo, putting him on the Montreal club circuit and leading to a number of demos produced by Pierre Marchand. Marchand remained with Wainwright to produce his album Poses which peaked at number 117 in US Billboard’s 200 (in 2001 but rose to 103 in 2004) and number 1 in Billboard’s Top Heatseekers. The demos eventually made their way to Lenny Waronker, an executive at DreamWorks who signed Wainwright to his label. On this label Wainwright released his self-titled album to critical acclaim, being recognised as ‘one of the best albums of the year’ by Rolling Stone and named him ‘Best New Artist’ of the year. The album won the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music Album and a Juno Award for Best Alternative Album.
The success of his first album lead to Wainwright’s explosion in the music world and eight more subsequent albums. However Wainwright has not limited his career to a preforming artist but delved into the world of opera, television and film. Wainwright has had roles in films such as The Aviator, Heights and played a part in Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller. His music has featured in iconic films like Brokeback Mountain, Moulin Rouge!, Shrek and Meet The Robinsons as well as his recording of ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ playing in the closing credits of The History Boys. Wainwright’s love for opera has bloomed into the creation of two of his own (Prima Donna and Hadrian). The second of the two premiering at the Canadian Opera Company in 2018.
Beyond music Wainwright also began Blackoutsabbath in 2008 which is a concept he created to become more environmentally conscious, promoted by the organisation Blackout Sabbath. In 2008 Wainwright came out as completely in support of gay rights, stating ‘I don’t think any government should encroach on what goes on in the bedroom.’ Later in April 2010 he became in favour of legalising gay marriage after meeting his now husband, Jorn Weisbordt.
With such a full life covered in the media it is shocking how the artist has only recently come to my attention but has made a lingering impression.
Review by Skye W.Winwood