Record Review 

On his second album, Poses, Rufus Wainwright continues his role as a pop troubadour. Only this time out (thanks again to producer Pierre Marchand), his songs are as equally studio-polished as they are vaudevillian-ragged. His deft wordplay, quirky time signatures, sporadic orchestral arrangements and loud parades of circus-minstrel harmonies quickly will grate on the nerves of anyone expecting folk-tinged piano balladry from the son of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle. Those of us who delight in violin solos that double as exercises in Far Eastern open-chord arpeggios, though, will be ecstatic with "Greek Song," and likewise blissed-out by the perfect peanut-butter and jelly chorus of "California."

What's so striking about Wainwright's baritone reed isn't its flexibility or range; technically, it's little more than a one-octave echo of Jackson Browne. Listeners can hear the desperation in lines such as "I saw it in your eyes what will make me live/all the sights of Paris/pale inside your iris/tip the Eiffel Tower with one glance/stained glass cathedrals with one glint/you smashed it with your eyes/one blink and then my heart wasn't there no more" (from "Tower of Learning"). On songs like this, his singing is as dramatic and heartfelt as any rainy-day Thom Yorke, and twice as clever.

Openly gay, Wainwright writes lyrics that neither sting with the resentment of a bitter outsider nor tout the trite pleasures of a life filled with sexual freedom, nightclubs and hot bods. Poses is all-consumingly sensual, but never overtly sexual, and therein lies its beauty. "The Consort" is as close to a love song as Poses has ("together we'll wreak havoc/you and me"). But it's "One Man Guy," a song written by his father, that poses Rufus Wainwright as his generation's master of friendly irony.


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