Tunes for a Date Night

Rufus Wainwright’s fourth album continues some experimentation

Rufus Wainwright’s latest album, “Want Two,” draws a fine distinction between an incredibly boring lack of melody and semi-interesting mellowness. Wainwright’s more-beautiful-than-ever voice and snarky, smart lyrics on the highly lauded young, gay singer/songwriter’s fourth album may not be enough to save it from slipping into sleepy oblivion.

Recorded mainly during the same sessions as Wainwright’s acclaimed 2003 album, “Want One,” the album continues the experiential classical themes of the first, but contains what Wainwright has called “the more daunting tracks, the operatic, weird stuff, some heavy numbers that relate to my classical sensibilities.”

Operatic is a bit of an overstatement. The songs are more reminiscent of a fifth grade piano recital. “Little Sister” sounds too elementary to be worth listening to for its musical qualities. Wainwright seems to be aware of this when he mocks it with his humor by singing, “Little sister come and sit beside me and we’ll play a tune on this old piano forte just for a while ‘til your hair becomes a powdered wig and I become a total bastard, feet that hardly reach the pedal.”

Other songs, such as “Peach Trees” reflect Wainwright’s considerable spiritual intelligence. His amazingly soft and comforting voice over a slow, soothing melody creates an instant chill classic. The minimal backgrounds, just a simple, clumsy guitar, soft piano textures and a slightly Latin feel in the bass create the perfect ambiance for asking soft questions of love. The lyrics, again, sung through a gorgeous vibrato pose equally elegantly phrased questions: “Is true love a trip to Chinatown or being held in one’s opium gaze under the peach trees. There I’ll sit and wait.” The poetry of his music mixes beautifully with the poetry of his words when he sings, “Cause I’m so tired of waiting in restaurants reading the critics and comics alone with a waiter with a face made for currency like a coin in ancient Rome.”

The array of tracks varies little, although a few songs delve into more upbeat jigs and one explores an almost hip-hop bass beat. The songs remain mostly pedestrian, although a few moments punch through the musical haze and offer pure beauty. The album isn’t a classic, but die-hard Wainwright fans will love it. Those who are curious about the musician’s distinctive sound, check out one of the earlier albums, unless you want a bargain.

The album offers a big bonus treat. The gypsy-esque case includes a 22-track DVD of live performances of songs from both “Want One” and “Want Two,” including “I Don’t Know What It Is,” “Dinner at Eight” and “Oh What A World,” at San Francisco’s historic Fillmore Auditorium.

Son of great musicians Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright debuted in 1998 with a self-titled album before releasing “Poses” in 2001. He will soon venture onto the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “The Aviator,” and is planning a second film role in the 2005 Merchant Ivory film, “Heights.”

For an artist revered by the legendary Elton John for his musical abilities, “Want Two” fails to surpass his previous offerings, although those who savor Wainwright’s vocal splendor may enjoy the new release with a glass or two of red wine and a romantic stay-at-home dinner.

Rufus Wainwright will appear on Tuesday December 7, from noon – 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 33 E. 17th St. (17th & Broadway) in Manhattan. Call 212-253-0810 for more information.

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