Through the wailing timpani, bass trombone and background screaming about "fire and brimstone," the central question of the opening track of Rufus Wainwright's fifth album, and first as a producer, is a simple one: "Do I disappoint you?" Oh, Rufus, it's not that you disappoint so much as you exhaust. All the schmaltzy theatrics resembling the brassy bluster of Herb Albert covering Holst one moment and the Lawrence Welk marching band in the Macy's parade the next seem like puffed-up retreads from the recent Want One and Want Two LPs that make us long for the understated old days. Here, there's nothing that's painted with subtlety: we get shallow whines about being "tired of America" ("Going To A Town") and the snobbish "Tulsa" that's limply cast with a lover who "tastes of potato chips," a "fat guy with the green shirt," and an autograph hound. The highlights are the simpler tunes ("Sanssouci," "Leaving For Paris") where he only tosses in a few flute tracks. But let's be frank, if you write a song about your dick ("Between My Legs"), the piped-in I, Claudius monologue (a gag done years ago by Matthew Sweet, by the way) and Phantom of the Opera quotes seem a bit like overcompensation. Disappointing? No, but certainly unsatisfying.
Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].