Produced by Mark Ronson, Wainwright’s soulful “Out of the Game” (Decca), already considered to be one of the best albums of 2012 by Rolling Stone, is a far-cry from his soul-baring and mournful “All Days are Night: Songs for Lulu.”
Easily Wainwright’s most potentially and consistently commercial album since 2001’s “Poses” or “Release the Stars,” “Out of the Game” finds the singer/songwriter at the very top his game.
Wainwright’s sense of humor is on exhibit throughout, beginning with the title track, in which he makes witty observations on the behavior of gay men younger than his own 39 years. Name-dropper “Rashida” effortlessly updates vintage soul, Rufus-style, complete with wailing diva backing vocals. The retro R&B vibe continues on the sexy “Barbara,” as well as the swirling “Bitter Tears,” and the full-on funk of “Perfect Man,” which deserves to be remixed for club play.
To Ronson’s credit, Wainwright doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. On the contrary, he is very definitely the central focus all the way through the disc. Playing less piano and more guitar than usual, the Rufus we have all come to know and love can be heard loud and clear on “Welcome to the Ball,” “Respectable Dive,” “Sometimes You Need” and the amazing and utterly gay “Montauk.”
GA Voice spoke with Rufus shortly before his appearance in Atlanta at The Tabernacle on Oct. 20.
GA Voice: Rufus, you are heading out on tour again in support of your latest album, “Out of the Game.” How were the new songs received on the earlier leg of the tour? Were there any songs that went over better than others?
Rufus Wainwright: On the other leg of the tour, it was an interesting equation. I started touring even before the album came out, so people didn’t know any of the songs at all [laughs]. It was actually kind of a nice way to measure the temperature of the work.
For instance, one of the songs that’s really, immediately made a huge effect and continues to do so, and we’re actually going to take it to radio, is “Perfect Man.” “Perfect Man” seems to resonate really well.
That being said, at this point, after touring for a few months, “Out of the Game” has become a real anthem. My fans really rally behind that particular number. Mainly because I think what seems so obvious is actually quite complicated and very catchy in the end.
I’m glad that you mentioned “Perfect Man.” When performing that song and others live, do you maintain elements of the original arrangements or do you change them up a bit in concert?
No, we’re sticking with the agenda here. It is an up-tempo show and so we try to capture that. But we don’t only do the new album. I tried to cover the whole spectrum of my career in the evening. There’s still some sad, depressing music [laughs].
Were blue-eyed soul numbers on “Out of the Game,” such as “Barbara” and “Rashida,” and the righteously funky “Perfect Man,” written that way or are they examples of producer Mark Ronson’s influence?
No, that was very much Mark Ronson’s touch. “Barbara” was almost more of a Philip Glass arpeggiated aria. “Rashida” was a slow, slow country dirge. I wrote “Perfect Man” with the Pet Shop Boys in mind. It was Mark who brought them together.
In “Montauk,” you approach the subject of fatherhood with a touch of humor. In what ways has parenthood, being a father to Viva, changed you, if at all?
Well, it’s very early in the game, the moment. And I’m certainly not out of it! There’s a long inning that I embarked on; a lifelong inning. And I think I’d be foolish to make any broad statements.
I will say that it is highly necessary for me to carve out a substantial amount of time for her future. Right now, I’m working all the time, so it’s hard. But I do have it in the front of my mind that very soon I will be at her disposal.
Elizabeth Banks, with whom you co-starred in the 2005 movie “Heights,” has gone on to have a hugely successful acting career. Will you be doing any more acting on film?
Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that it’s a hunger of mine. But I would say that I keep branching out into more theatrical work. It has been very successful for me, be it the opera or my work with the Shakespeare’s sonnets. There’s been a lot of talk about writing a musical and film scores. That seems to be a threshold that I should be in and it’s pulling me towards it.
You play the Tabernacle in Atlanta on Oct. 20. Do you ever have time to take in any of the sites in a city a historic as Atlanta when you are in town?
I tried to. I don’t know Atlanta so well. I’ve, of course, visited Elton (John) in Atlanta when he’s there. I’ve also been to a few rowdy gay bars. Also, my grandmother was from Tifton, Ga. I’d certainly like to know more about Atlanta.
Finally, have you begun thinking about or working on your next album?
Right now, my sister Martha and I are working on promoting our (late) mother Kate McGarrigle’s material. We made a film called “Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You” which is premiering at a festival in New York soon.
We’ll be doing the rounds at festivals and then we’ll pick up a commercial release. It’s an incredible movie about our mother and her musical heritage.
Top photo: Rufus Wainwright promises ‘an up-tempo show’ when he brings his acclaimed new album, ‘Out of the Game,’ to the Tabernacle with Ingrid Michaelson and Lucy Wainwright Roche. (Publicity photo)