Rufus Wainwright – Vibrate: The Best Of Rufus Wainwright (2014)
I first discovered Rufus Wainwright back in 2004/2005, after a particularly glowing recommendation from the now sadly departed and still greatly missed Word Magazine. After being told in great detail just how excellent he was, I bought what was the latest album at the time, “Want One”, and was completely floored by the genius of that piece of work in a way I hadn’t been affected by music for a good few years. The intelligent, artistic lyrics, the beautifully grandiose cross between pop, rock, classical and opera, Rufus’ distinctive, powerful and yet expressive voice… it started a love affair with Rufus’ music that has continued over the last decade and has only grown in affection (I have to admit, I have a dog called Rufus – that probably gives you an idea of how much I love the man). I read the news last year that Rufus was going to be releasing this “best of” compilation and couldn’t help nodding appreciatively that it was a very good time to present an extremely strong overview of his work so far, after sixteen years of releasing albums. Of course, how good it was going to be very much depended upon the track listing, so has Rufus represented his catalogue well with this compilation?
The answer is yes, it’s close to perfect. There are a few glaring omissions which I will come to later, but listening to this compilation is nothing other than an immense pleasure, so, as an introduction to Rufus’ music it is a genuine success. I bought the double disc deluxe version which, in my opinion, is well worth the extra money thanks to the extra music and the superior packaging. It comes in a rather beautiful looking (CD sized) box, with a booklet full of great photos and pieces of writing from the man himself, as well as family. One piece of text which particularly resonated with me was Wainwright thanking the reader for actually buying a CD which he states is “an act of altruism in this day and age” and then underlines his love of and commitment to the album format, something I completely agree with him about, wholeheartedly. It covers the whole breadth of his career, right from “April Fools” and “Foolish Love” taken from his début album in 1998 right up to new song, “Me And Liza”, co-written with Guy Chambers for this compilation; something, obviously, to reward dedicated fans who have all of his other albums with for buying this collection too.
The first disc (or the only disc if you have the “ordinary” version) is packed full of songs that newcomers to Wainwright will be utterly blown away by and, for long-time fans such as myself, re-visiting even the most familiar songs in the form of this compilation still leaves me reeling with the magnificence, quality, humour and humanity in his music. It would be absolutely impossible to pick out highlights or favourites here… the mournful, but utterly gorgeous, “Going To A Town”, the lightly scolding, playful “Out Of The Game”, the sheer heartbreaking beauty of “The Art Teacher”, the glorious “I Don’t Know What It Is”, they all sound as fresh, as vital and as brilliant as the first time I ever heard them all. I could go on. “Dinner At Eight”, “Go Or Go Ahead”, “The One You Love”; without exaggeration, each and every one a work of utter genius. The inclusion of Rufus’ superb version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is another selling point for fans who may not have the Shrek soundtrack or the expensive, lavish “House Of Rufus” box set which contained everything other than the Wainwright kitchen sink. The only song on the disc I would say could have been replaced with something better is “Sometimes You Need” (from “Out Of The Game”) which, although a lovely song, isn’t perhaps one of the best examples of his work, even from that release, however, new song the classy, commercial “Me And Liza” fits in very well with the older songs. With the greatest amount of respect for the album, I think the decision not to include any tracks from “All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu”, the only studio album unrepresented here, was an astute one; simply put, the tone of that recording would have brought this album down a little.
The second disc in the deluxe edition is certainly a real treat for fans and collates plenty of rare tracks that will keep even the most dedicated Wainwright lovers happy. “WWIII”, written with Guy Chambers as part of a television programme on songwriting (“Secrets Of The Pop Song”), which has never before had a physical release, is a great song and an excellent inclusion on this collection (although I can’t believe nobody pointed out that “Don’t bore us/get to the chorus” lyrics was a tag-line from a Roxette greatest hits). There is also the gentle, pretty “The Maker Makes” from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack, as well as French ballad “Complainte De La Butte” from Moulin Rouge, plus another exclusive new song for this album, “Chic And Pointless”, a jazzy little number which, although good, definitely belongs on the second disc. We’re also treated to a number of live tracks, some from the “Live From The Artist’s Den” album (released on the same day as this compilation in the UK), others from the July 2010 Kenwood House performance, my picks of which would be “Jericho”, “Montauk”, Noel Coward’s “If Love Were All” and “Memphis Skyline”, Rufus’ tribute to Jeff Buckley. I have to admit, “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart” is pretty irresistible too. Although I enjoyed the interview conducted by Jo Whiley at the end of the second disc, I can’t help but wish that there had been nothing but music on the CD, because I know I will end up having to switch the album off before it concludes during future listening sessions; honestly, nobody will want to listen to the interview every time they listen to the album, so it’s the project’s only real misstep.
I can’t conclude this review without speaking about the omissions that could have made this compilation more perfect. Of course, every fan has his or her favourite songs, but the quality and popularity of “Gay Messiah”, “14th Street”, “Rules And Regulations”, “Peach Tree”, “Rashida”, “Song Of You”, “Beautiful Child” and “Harvester Of Hearts” mean that the decision to leave these particular songs out is somewhat baffling, especially when you consider a few of the tracks that have warranted inclusion. In a way, it may be an entirely good thing that there are such wonderful gems still left on the studio albums, waiting for people new to Rufus’ work to discover. Even if you buy this two-disc deluxe version of “Vibrate: The Best Of Rufus Wainwright” as the starting point for your journey into his work, all of his albums are still well worth owning and “Poses”, “Want One”, “Want Two”, “Release The Stars” and “Out Of The Game”, especially, are essential buys, if you like what you hear here. Still, considering what is on the album, rather than thinking about what has been left out, it is difficult to criticise any of the content (apart from the inclusion of the interview) and, especially in the deluxe form, is a magnificent representation of the eclectic, uncompromising work, integrity and artistry of one of our greatest songwriters and performers, living or otherwise.