Rufus Wainwright: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

RIYL: Leonard Cohen, George Gershwin, deathly seriousness

All musicians should have Rufus Wainwright’s ambition, with a reach that far, far exceeds their grasp the way his does. The only catch, of course, is that there is no guarantee that you will like what he’s reaching for from one album to the next. He’s like Neil Young in the ’80s, only without the whole ‘fuck you Geffen’ thing.

There are two clear phases to his career at this point: the pop years (his 1998 debut, 2001’s Poses, and 2003’s Want One), and the stage years, which is everything he’s released after Want One. Hell, the man did a show as Judy Garland, so Broadway clearly appeals to him more than conventional popular music. And that’s okay: the man is nothing if not melodramatic, so he’s wise to play to his strengths.


This time around, though, the ‘melo’ to ‘drama’ ratio is tilted mightily in favor of the former. All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, Wainwright’s first studio effort since 2007’s Release the Stars, is Rufus armed only with a piano, a stark contrast to the elaborate productions he’s been assembling for the last, well, ten years now. It’s pretty, but hot damn, is it maudlin. Wainwright’s pulse quickens only three times here, and they wisely opened the album with one of them: “Who Are You New York?” has the album’s biggest hooks both vocally and musically, with “Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now” not far behind. Someone needs to talk to him, though, about his tendency to draw out the syllables to the point where it doesn’t sound like he’s singing actual words. Entire songs can go by without a single lyric leaving a mark, and when it’s one of the, ahem, many ballads that All Days Are Nights sports, the experience of listening to the album can get laborious in a hurry.

In a business where promising careers get smashed by simple-minded executives who want to put a square peg in a round hole, Rufus Wainwright is one of the few artists who could stand to benefit from a little direction. Unless, of course, Wainwright is actually trying to make albums that appeal to fewer and fewer people, in which case he should continue doing exactly what he’s doing. All Days Are Nights is fine for what it is, but if he doesn’t watch it, Wainwright’s subsequent releases will be given the same fanfare as a new album by Sarah Brightman. (Decca 2010)

Rufus Wainwright MySpace page
Click to buy All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu from Amazon


Sonos: Sonos

A cappella music is supposed to be the domain of fun-for-a-minute novelty acts like the Nylons or the Blenders, and even the best of the genre often sounds as though it was recorded by the same grinning, finger-snapping, vest-wearing nerds you laughed at during spring assembly in high school. The last time anyone cared about an a cappella single was in 1993, when Huey Lewis and the News scored a fluke hit with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright” – and when a genre’s last taste of success came from Huey Lewis, you know it’s seen better days. Into this cultural vacuum steps the six-member Los Angeles outfit known as Sonos, and although their press materials contain all the dreaded buzzwords used by makers of terminally unhip music – “push the envelope,” “redefine a genre” – their self-titled debut is actually far better than you might expect, especially given their über-hip taste in cover selections (Bjork’s “Jaga,” Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place,” Imogen Heap’s “Come Here Boy”) and/or the presence of AAA radio pox Sara Bareilles, who contributes vocals to her own “Gravity.” It helps that they aren’t a straight a cappella outfit – many of the tracks incorporate light instrumentation, and they aren’t afraid to chop and twiddle with their vocals – but what really puts Sonos across is the ease with which the group manages to substitute a cool modern feel for the stereotypical Up With People vibe. No vests here, in other words – and if Sonos is still a novelty, it’s one that’ll take a good, long while to wear off. (Big Helium 2009)

Sonos MySpace page