Album Review: Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

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It’s been three long years since his last album, 2007’s Release the Stars, but Rufus Wainwright has been keeping quite busy. Between writing and debuting his first opera and continuing to tour, Wainwright still found time to put pen to paper, and his diligence shows on his new record, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. Flush with his characteristic showmanship, All Days Are Nights… is a lovely addition to Wainwright’s impressive discography.

The album opens with “Who Are You New York?”, a charming piece laced with city imagery, filled with lush piano arrangements, and most importantly, showcasing Wainwright’s lovely vocal tone to its great advantage.  Wainwright has an envious talent for holding long notes at a constant tone but somehow never losing momentum. Rather, he uses these moments to build his songs to new heights of drama in a way that many singers would envy. Wainwright sticks primarily to piano backing here, providing a more dramatic showcase for his voice than previous percussion- and string-heavy releases.

Wainwright also shows that he can play it slow and quiet on tracks “So Sad With What I Have”, and, most effectively, “Martha”. The latter is a heartfelt piano ballad in the form of a voicemail message to his beloved sister Martha, discussing the decline of their parents. Wainwright’s mother, folk singer Kate McGarrigle. passed away after a long battle with cancer in early 2010, and the related experiences color this song with sad and beautiful emotion. The haunting melodies start higher and louder, and as the subject matter gets more dramatic, Wainwright’s tone and volume both trail off and down, to heartbreaking effect. “Please”, he intones quietly at the end, “call me back…”

Never one to get too heavy, Wainwright picks up next with peppy and light-hearted “Give Me What I Want And Give It To Me Now!”  He is a master of mixing emotions on his albums with all the complexity of the true human experience, melding sadness and joy so closely together as to achieve a perfectly effortless effect that carries through the album.

Other highlights include a three-song set of Shakespeare’s sonnets set to music. Numbers 43, 20, and 10 get the songwriter’s treatment here, to lovely effect. “Les Feux d’artifice t’appellent” is smoky and mysterious and French, one of Wainwright’s signature moods.

“Zebulon” is another favorite and a strong closing note on a strong album (although depending on which country you bought your album in, you may have gotten one of several bonus tracks after this). By turns dramatic and quietly sarcastic, “Zebulon” builds into a track that touches the exhausted optimist in each of us. “My mother’s in the hospital/my sister’s at the opera/I’m in love but let’s not talk about it/there’s so much to tell you…” Wainwright sings, presumably to a lost love—or was it just a love misplaced? “Your nose was always too big for your face/Still, it made you look kind of sexy/More like someone who belongs in the human race…” By the end of the line, Wainwright’s pitch is so low as to almost dissolve. It’s an understanding sort of irony, a weathered, world-wearied sort of enthusiasm for life that Wainwright can sing like no one else.

Wainwright seems to be making a sort of peace with life and with the world here, and fans will have no trouble making peace with this album. All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is an accessible, touching, and entertaining release from one of the most talented songwriters of our day. Bring on the night!

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