I lost track of Rufus Wainwright a wee bit after he started scoring operas and high-fallutin’ it in a dinner jacket. Including a couple of live efforts and a ‘Best Of‘ LP, his album discography is now into double figures, but for me the high water mark is the first volume of ‘Want‘. Initially sold as two separate albums, Want 1 and Want 2 were later repackaged as a double album and, as an introduction to all things Rufus, you could get no better. If you can bottle the sound of pathos, the odd high camp moment and great hair, Want 1 is the result.
Halfway through Want 1 is the incredible Go Or Go Ahead. Go Or Go Ahead is a drug song, but not a scuzzy, junkie-confessional, claustrophobic itch-fest that has you running for the shower before the last note has faded. Go Or Go Ahead drips in melody and is wrapped in harmonies sent from the heavens, ridiculously uplifting and bathed in enough arms-wide-open melodrama to make even Mount Rushmore shed a tiny tear.
Rufus Wainwright – Go Or Go Ahead
The way the songs builds and builds, from major to minor acoustic strum and brilliant tumbling “do-dn-do-be-doos”, via the middle section with a pitch-shifting guitar break courtesy of Charlie Sexton (moonlighting from his duties in Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour band) to the BIG “look in her eyes!” section where Rufus and his sister Martha are overdubbed a gazillion times to create that incredible Spector in stereo wall of sound is absolutely spectacular. By comparison, it makes other ‘big’ songs (McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes‘, The Smiths’ ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me‘, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over‘, for example) seem almost trite and insignificant. In the grand scheme of things, Go Or Go Ahead is the daddy of them all.
Written (“you got me writing lyrics on postcards“) while Rufus walked the streets in a less than salubrious area of San Francisco during the middle of an addiction to crystal meth, it’s lyric is full of self-loathing, celebrating the vacuousness and vanity of hollow celebrity. Or something like that. More scholarly people than myself could write pages and pages on the metaphors within each line. Sure, there are references to Judy Garland, gin and Mars, the God of War, but I suppose you take your own meanings from them. Me? I just dig the tune. It’s a belter, isn’t it?
Another ‘street’ song, 14th Street from the same LP is another high, Rufus’ voice on top form, his band sounding Spector-huge once more. During our one visit to New York I found myself subconsciously singing this as we crossed yer actual 14th Street on my way into Chinatown. I can see it in my head as I type right now.
Rufus Wainwright – 14th Street
Now. If you do one thing this week, fill that gaping hole in your collection with Want. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.