By now, I've completely given up on all attempts to discern any resemblance whatsoever between the musical stylings of Rufus Wainwright and that of his parents, Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. In their own time, both parents were musical iconoclasts as well, so I guess that is as much similarity as I am ever likely to discern. Judging from his lyrics and a few comments that he's made to the press, Rufus is too much the solipsist to resemble anyone else at all, least of all his parents, but that turns out to be a very good thing. "Release the Stars" is such a unique and thoroughly realized musical vision that it resembles nothing else I've heard, including most of Wainwright's previous work.
On previous albums, Wainwright's melodies were occasionally thwarted by his ambition and a tendency to overwhelm the listener. His debut album, as well as "Want One" and "Want Two," struck me as stunning statements of overachievement. As luminous as they were, I ultimately felt lost in his musical vision, as if there were too many disparate elements fighting for my attention. "Release the Stars" can be just as demanding, but it is superior because it is wholly cohesive in its vision and message. Recorded during a hiatus away from America, Wainwright takes the time to ruminate on a multitude of relationships, and the results are often compelling, and occasionally stunning. "Rules and Regulations" contains the observation "I will never be as cute as you...These are just the rules and regulations, and I, like everyone, must follow them." In Slideshow," he debates whether it was worth the expense to fly his lover to be with him in Berlin. It's a simple thought, perhaps even base, but his delivery is wry and humorous, singing "I better be prominently featured in your next slide show, because I paid a lot of money to get you over here, you know." The dramatically intense arrangement is further heightened by the stunning accompaniment of Richard Thompson's gorgeously understated guitar solo. Without doubt, this is music made in the shadow of Richard Wagner.
I don't know if it's my imagination, but I also sense a slight difference in Wainwright's vocal delivery on "Release the Stars." In the past, I felt slightly put off by his oddly slurry enunciation - no, I don't mean `lith-py' - I'm referring to his tendency to somehow drench his words in ennui, even while soaring through a melody. Here, he sounds as if he cares much more about his subject, and the passion is visceral. "Between My Legs" is a quite funny and upbeat rumination on being sexually `absent'. "Going to a Town" is the album's emotional centerpiece, eloquently stating his purpose for leaving America behind, but the album's subtle climax comes during "Sans Souci," wherein Wainwright seems genuinely amused, if not pleased, with his predicament of being alone in Berlin. Throughout, "Release the Stars" is delivered in a voice that could only belong to one man, and this time around, I find it very easy to like Rufus Wainwright, just as he is. A Tom Ryan