Few people twist the opposing aesthetics of lush and stark with the dexterity of Rufus Wainwright, the chanteuse with the steady aim on broken hearts and sumptuous agony. On Out of the Game, Wainwright does not disappoint: whirling string sections and a chorus of women exhale grief behind the brash songwriter who knows no shade of blue that eludes him.
Even opening with the incandescent “Out of the Game,” a song about not seceding, but getting specific, the pang of yearning is present and accounted for. The chorus collects momentum, swells and overflows with the blanket of soul queens for echo and the notion of buoyancy from the object of desire providing a jubiliance.
Still, this is not a celebration. Moving into a Biblical metaphor as centerpiece, “Jericho” illustrates the tug of what one hopes versus how it shall always be; Wainwright’s voice is pensive against the brass blasts and slightly faltering rhythms.
For Wainwright, it’s that gear-shifting that provides as much engagement as the full-frontal emotionalism. Whether it’s painting the foreboding portrait of a withholding heroine in “Rashida,” the neo-’70s soul vision of a lost soul in “Barbara” or the almost Black Keys-esque percolation of a flatline delivery in “The Perfect Man,” the emotions are dead-on and the subjects are skewered in the myriad details.
Still, it’s the austerity where Wainwright bewitches. The glistening “Montauk” features a piano figure with strings swirling, voice haunted and tone infused with the notion that what is in the distance will also be gone. Temporality informs everything.
“Sometimes You Need” embraces the same solitary truths, this time an acoustic guitar figure interlaced with a tremolo guitar that quivers with unspoken pining. The small things that get you by, the anonymous kindness, the isolated walk—and Wainwright’s fragility suggests these slight moments can provide the necessary buttressing.
If “Song for You” takes on an almost mantra-like take on a request from someone to write a song about them, the ‘50s stride rhythms that break the quiet tease a sense of dignity in the survival: head held high, tears not shed in public.
With a gentle accordion wheeze, Game concludes with the realization that churches run out of candles, banks won’t give you what you need and in the end, all there is is the echo of your own broken heart. World-weary, it makes failure holy and survival a refuge that sustains. In the end, if that’s all there is, he tenderly suggests that shall be plenty.