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Rufus Wainwright Strikes a Winning Pose

Rufus Wainwright debuted in 1998 and received widespread critical praise from mainstream magazines to indie-minded fringe publications. Critics lavished the young Canadian star with praise for his mastery of the piano, Stradivarius-like voice, classical-music choruses and lyrics that gracefully shifted from heart-wrenchingly dramatic to darkly comedic. On his new album, Poses, Wainwright proves that his first try was no fluke--the sophomore effort is anything but sophomoric.

Poses chronicles Wainwright's life over the last few years. His increasing personal maturity, deeper understanding of his homosexuality and transplantation into Los Angeles serve as the plot. Poses serves as dialogue, set and score. The album is like an episodic novel or film with Wainwright as our protagonist--a sort-of gay Holden Caulfield--discovering himself and telling the story with music and poetry.

On "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," the first track, Wainwright waxes on the dangerous nature of his personal vices: "Everything it seems I like/is just a little bit stronger/a little bit thicker/a little bit harmful for me." The track is intensely personal.

"California," is a tribute to the fantasy of the Golden State--specifically L.A. While other artists have tried to capture California in lyrics, most have gotten stuck in the state's second or third layer of superficiality. Wainwright drills the state to its superficial core (it is California after-all) but does not condemn the carefree lifestyle that he finds. More accurately, he embraces it.

Like a good movie, the album is not all about the good times. "Poses"describes a coming of age struggle: "All these poses/now no longer boyish/made me a man/ah but who cares what that is."

Wainwright compliments his bewitching lyrics with divergent sounds: the rock-operatic "Evil Angel" is nothing like the funky "Shadows"--the album keeps you guessing. And again like a film, after the album's denouement--the haunting "In a Graveyard,"--leaves you frightfully wondering what has died. Luckily, the disc ends with a reprise of "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk"--as if to tell us that our protagonist has survived and can sing his song again.

--By Martin Barna

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