Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Oct. 3, 2003
Rufus WainwrightWant One (Dreamworks) Everyone knows that scene at the end of Sunset Boulevard in which the cracked former beauty Norma Desmond floats menacingly toward the camera, oh-so-ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille. Rufus Wainwright's musical beauty certainly hasn't faded to such dramatically kooky extremes, but the laugh lines around the eyes and mouth are starting to show, artistically speaking. Or so you might think as his third release, Want One, begins its preliminary rotations. It kicks off with a stroke of genius, breaking out into the theme from Bolero in "Oh What a World," wrapping up with a decrescendo that feels like a bridge in musical theatre. It would seem Wainwright has traded his operatic sensibilities for Broadway flair, which is as tired as swapping stilettos for orthopedic loafers. There are some beautiful moments early in the disc, like "Vicious World" and "Go or Go Ahead" and "Movies of Myself" showcases Wainwright's beloved dry wit, but it's not until Want One nears its own sunset that the joints loosen up and the tone changes. The longing poignancy of "Natasha," in which Wainwright sings, "all I can do is write a song for you," is palpable. "Beautiful Child" resurrects the more youthfully passionate Rufus we fell in love with in 1998, only now he's more reflective, subdued. The cover art illustrates that Wainwright is still a beautiful man-boy, so maybe this uneven album, which saves its bacon in its dying moments, is the result of the emotional ravages wreaking havoc beneath the skin.