Rufus Wainwright - All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu
Following the grand stars and stripes tour of Release the Stars, the shamelessly camp ‘Swanee’-ing of the Judy Garland tribute concert and the extravagance of an opera, Rufus Wainwright decided he wanted to tone it down a little. For his sixth album, All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, he sits us down cross-legged around his piano and lays himself bare. We are reminded that he is, by his very nature, a songwriter. He can come on stage in fishnets or a ‘Gay Messiah’ kaftan and have fireworks exploding from either side and climb up on Jörn’s shoulders and put on a ridiculous show, but ultimately he’s at his most magical when it’s just him and a piano.
Listening to this album is like being introduced to a newly grown up, mature artist. His delivery has an incredible sincerity to it and as the album progresses it is as if we are gradually unwrapping an idea of what it means to be Rufus Wainwright right now. He exposes every intricate wound from his mother, Kate McGarrigle’s, battle with cancer treating his audience as an engaged confident rather than merely a passive consumer.
In ‘Martha’ we are brought into a conversation with his sister in which he attempts to unite the family at their matriarch’s bedside for her dying days. Most touching is the reflection that, “neither of us is really that much older than each other anymore”. Rufus is scared and he’s looking to his younger sister for help, but he clearly realises there’s not a lot she can do. It is common for the Wainwrights to cast each other as the subject of songs, but it is usually done with malice. This time however, even their father Loudon Wainwright III, is granted redemption from the previous resentment he has suffered at the hands of his children’s inherited wit, because “there’s not much time for us to really be that angry at each other anymore”.
This heartbreaking ballad is immediately followed by a track that on the surface is just a foray into the realms of high camp cabaret, ‘Give Me What I Want And Give It To Me Now’, but that would be too obvious. It doesn’t make sense for an artist who is in the process of distancing himself from his year of indulgent performativity to make such a crass deluge into stomping vaudevillian showmanship. This track is perhaps better understood as a satirical look at his past or as he puts it, a song for Lulu. Lulu is the embodiment of the side of his personality that he has spent years trying to subdue. It is the impatient child in him that feeds off instant gratification and base pleasures. He has created an alter ego to at once distance himself from this demon and at the same time take responsibility for it. It is fascinating that he has chosen to reflect on low points in his life that he led himself into, at a time when something completely out of his control has brought tragedy to his world. This is the level of introspection of a true artist.
Despite the album’s maturity, there is an odd sense of the child in Rufus Wainwright jumping up and down shouting “Look what I’ve been up to!” as if struggling to subdue his youthful exuberance. There is an uncomfortable interval of three sonnets written as part of a collaboration with legendary theatre practitioner Robert Wilson. Unfortunately, they don’t lend themselves very easily for translation into song. Their structure places the impact at the beginning and the end and as a result, the middle can feel quite weak. We do however get the eponymous “all days are nights” moment in ‘Sonnet 43’ which snaps back any drifting focus.
We’re also treated to an excerpt from his opera, the concluding aria ‘Les Feux D’artifice T’appellent’, which despite originally being written for Janis Kelly’s character in the concluding scene of Prima Donna as she contemplates throwing herself off her balcony, sits perfectly at the tail end of the album as a lead into Rufus’ final musing about his mother, the terrifyingly minimal ‘Zebulon’.
The real gift Rufus Wainwrighthas is his constant evolution. Despite this album being closest to his debut in the reduction of the arrangement, it manages to be his most accomplished and mature record yet.