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Rufus Wainwright

Often the best pop music requires a compromise from the listener. Bob Dylan's coyote howl may grate like sandpaper, but tremendous rewards await any who approaches his early recordings with an open mind. And so it is with singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. I balked upon first hearing Wainwright's 1998 debut album and his fashionably impassive voice. But after a second listen, I realized I had been dead wrong about this guy. Now, with the release of his insinuating sophomore album, Poses, Wainwright joins the hallowed pantheon of iconoclasts that includes Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, and Leonard Cohen. Indeed Poses establishes Wainwright as the premier pop impressionist of his time -- an Oscar Wilde- like aesthete whose confidence and charm are positively captivating.

The son of celebrated folksingers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, Rufus Wainwright has inherited his parents' rugged individualism. Instead of appropriating Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Wainwright takes his musical cues from refined songwriters and librettists such as Bertolt Brecht, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lennon and McCartney. An eclectic composer, Wainwright pens songs that veer wildly from smooth California funk to symphonic pop and beyond.

The result is some of the most honest and eccentric music ever recorded. Unlike Melissa Etheridge and other gay rockers who initially concealed their homosexuality, the far-out-of-the-closet Wainwright refuses to suffer the heterocentric foolishness of the marketplace. Conceding nothing, he matter-of-factly ponders, "Where is my master the rebel prince?" Even his song titles are unambiguous, as evidenced by tunes like "One Man Guy" and "Greek Song."

On the rare occasion when Wainwright does stoop to coyness, the results are uproarious. On "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," the singer lists his insatiable cravings before finally alluding to his sexuality. To wit: "And then there's those other things/Which for several reasons we won't mention/Everything about 'em is a little bit stranger, a little bit harder/A little bit deadly." While most of his peers revel in contrived angst, Wainwright candidly reveals his life for our perusal. If you don't get it, that's your problem -- and your loss.

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Bruce Britt

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