Rhythm & Views

Rufus Wainwright

Want Two is one of the year's best albums. Since his label's decision to split Want into separate releases, Wainwright has consistently claimed that the second part would show off more of his "operatic" side. He's no Freddie Mercury, however, and, if anything, Two can be characterized as being a bit "artier" than previous efforts. Case in point: "The Art Teacher"--told from the perspective of a middle-aged woman looking back on a secret, unrequited love from her girlhood. "He asked us what our favorite work of art was," she recalls. "Never could I tell him it was him." Long after the gorgeous teacher tells her he loves Joseph Turner, the nameless speaker reveals that she has married "an executive company head," which allows her to own one of the famous painter's works. And the pleasure and pain of desire still pierce her heart with the same intensity.

Not all of Want Two is told in miniature, of course. Orchestra swells and classical instrumentation soak up every bit of space between notes, giving songs like "This Love Affair" and "Memphis Skyline" a Sinatra-esque grandeur. There's even a little folk-rock in the form of "Gay Messiah," which rejects the ghetto-ization of gay pop culture.

Indeed, Wainwright belongs to an earlier era, before punk and hip hop and metal debased the entertainment world, back when things like songwriting and artistry mattered. In contrast, Wainwright's work is timeless and universal.

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