Rufus Wainwright is a Romantic poet trapped in a time of crude irony and rough, underdeveloped aesthetics. Yet he is also a postmodern artist, a witty, extremely self-aware and angsty 21st-century composer and lyricist, writing songs to a musical no one has yet thought of producing.
Want One (Dreamworks), his third release, is both exhilarating and sad, nostalgic and very much ahead of its time. The lyrics reveal a man who wants to lose his heart to love, to be out of control for once, to let himself feel it all in an often cynical and painful world. Here, Wainwright sings about the wanderlust he inherited from his musician parents, searching for love but craving change even more ("Oh What a World"), about the barriers to romance and love in contemporary society ("Vicious World") and about feeling like a modern-day Narcissus who secretly really only wants something or someone to love -- yet is looking in all the wrong places ("Movies of Myself"). Wainwright further deals with the never-ending search for self -- in his own case, looking for something beyond self and beyond fame while at the same time deriving complicated joy and true inspiration from these facets of his life. In this way, he embodies the contradictions of many in the new century, the jaded children of the '80s who dismiss phoniness and preciousness while still craving something more than their cultural inheritance.
The songs are full of elegant piano, lush string sections, keyboards and lots of harp. They also feature beautiful background vocals and occasional Motown-esque arrangements. They exhibit a mood spectrum ranging from melancholy to euphoria.
Want One is that rare piece of contemporary art: self-aware in its postmodernism but simultaneously yearning for something bigger, something more meaningful, both inside of and outside of the artist himself. When Wainwright expresses thanks (on "Go or Go Ahead") for "this bitter knowledge / Guardian angels who left me stranded," we know it's from a man who has felt crushing defeat, loneliness and meaninglessness. He has been inspired, nevertheless, to seek something more and to create a thing of amazing beauty. It's from a man who, ultimately, wouldn't have it any other way.