Out of the Game is a frantic record, leaping wildly between a diverse set of songs and genres. This frenetic pace is not indicative of any sort of malaise, however, but rather a virtuosic confidence. Rufus Wainwright has ever been an assured songsmith and performer—often to a fault, as the sometimes overindulgent vocal acrobatics and “cutesy” wordplay of his past efforts have shown.
Thankfully, this latest release mostly improves upon these decadent tendencies, toning done where appropriate, and accentuating the more flattering elements of Wainwright’s diva persona. For the most part, Wainwright frames his output within the three-minute bracket (a.k.a. the pop “sweet spot”). Mark Ronson’s sharp production complements this concision to deliver a calculated and devastating payload of pop. A real strength of this album is its arrangements: horns, synth, and backing vocals flit in and out of the songs, taking care of business where necessary and then getting the hell out of there. The supporting cast here is impressive. It includes the Dap-Kings, Nick Zinner, and, oh yeah, Nels Cline. Also, the whole Wainwright family seems to have turned out in full force; maybe the family reunion got canceled this year, or something.
Wainwright comes out swinging with the opening title track, turning a “kids these days” sentiment into an unlikely pop anthem. When Wainwright hits the “look at you—suckers!” line, one wonders if curmudgeonly ever sounded this good. The record ends well, too, with the affecting “Candles”, a song written for his recently deceased mother Kate McGarrigle. It somehow employs a bagpipe coda without making you wish you’d not taken the high road or the low road and not ended up in Scotland at all. In fact, it’s quite lovely.
The main weakness here: because Wainwright’s voice is such a flexible instrument, his melodies can tend to meander quite a bit. It’s undoubtedly skilful, but also sometimes boring: like televised golf. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my pop music to have tunes I’ll be singing long after the disc stops spinning, but some songs here were in one ear and out the other.
On the whole, however, Out of the Game is a solid investment, fun to listen to and worth paying for, if you’re still into that (I am). In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Wainwright said he wanted the record to be “…something that you love, driving around in your car listening or losing your mind to on a dance floor. Something to serenade us through these very, very troubling times.” On these terms, Out of the Game is a success.