I first discovered Rufus Wainwright by way of Robbie Williams‘ gorgeous, duets-laden album “Swings Both Ways”, from their track of the same name. The American-Canadian singer-songwriter and composer’s velvety, androgynous vocals were fascinating to say the least.
Just last week, Rufus Wainwright released his ninth studio album to little fanfare. “Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets” was quietly brought into the world with a slew of artistic collaborators, including Helena Bonham Carter, Marius de Vries, Florence Welch, and Carrie Fisher. With the 400th anniversary of the master playwright’s death coming to a head with the #Shakespeare400 banner online, it’s not difficult to see Wainwright’s motivations behind this album.
Speaking about the new project, Wainwright commented, “”For me, recording this album has been a marriage made in heaven, as it combines my love of classical music with my love of pop music. It’s literally historically fun.”
“I guess a fair number of people know the sonnets, but the plays are the centerpiece of Shakespeare’s legend. But I’ve found in working with the sonnets they even transcend the plays, though to even fathom that is inconceivable since the plays are so amazing. But once you start to get into the sonnets it takes on this timeless, ageless, almost futuristic quality. So much of the language and so much of the sentiment is contemporary – gender and sexuality and love and hate are just so plainly exhibited that it’s really searing.”
Perhaps the track that stands out the most is the offering by Florence Welch (of alternative rock band Florence + The Machine), and not just due to her star power alone. Up until the most recent “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”, the band’s music was deeply steeped in the lush soundscapes of baroque pop, a genre that’s not at all foreign to Wainwright himself.
The musical union beget a beautiful interpretation of Sonnet 29 “When In Disgrace With Fortune And Men’s Eyes”, Thematically, the sonnet’s content is not far from Florence’s own inspiration for the “How Beautiful” album, and the gentle plucking of a lyre harks back to her group’s familiarity with the harp in their debuting days of 2009.
Sitting assuredly at the centre of the album is an epic 5-minute performance of Sonnet 23 “Unperfect Actor” featuring Helena Bonham Carter, Martha Wainwright (sister to Rufus), and Fiora Carter. A crossroads between rock and opera is fashioned here by Wainwright, as his operatic aspirations are fuelled by ebullient energy – nearly reaching the sonic levels achieved by the legendary British rock band Queen.
It’s not hard to spot which composition is the creator’s favourite here. Sonnet 20 “A Woman’s Face” enjoys a reprise by Wainwright himself, the only solo track on the 16-track compilation. Performed earlier by Austrian coloratura Soprano Anna Prohaska, Wainwright’s rendition pits his weary, introspective vocals against Lana Del Rey-esque shoegazing instrumentation.
Marrying the old and the new has never been an easy feat, but Rufus Wainwright is definitely one to preside over the ceremony.
Listen to “Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets” on Spotify!