Rufus Wainwright

Poses (Dreamworks)

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The road is often difficult for the sons and daughters of rock's royalty, as they blaze their own trails and pursue their own audiences in the wake of their famous parents' legacies. For Rufus Wainwright, the prospects were twice as foreboding, as both parents (folkie Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian chanteuse Kate McGarrigle) could claim fairly rabid followings. On his eponymous 1998 debut, produced by pop wizard Jon Brion, Wainwright set those expectations packing as he created a singularly impressive work. Combining the pop operatics of Gilbert and Sullivan with the pop genius of Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, Wainwright came up with an album that transcended all existing categories and earned a spot on a number of critics' polls that came out that year.

Wainwright took three years to deliberate on the follow-up, and with Poses, he retools his sound toward the more contemporary pop aspects that he displayed originally, while retaining his intensely personal songwriting style as well as a penchant for captivating detail in his arrangements. Gone also is Wainwright's romantic streak, as Poses explores a darker and more ominous tone, both lyrically and musically. The energetic and upbeat "California" warns of a place where "Life is the longest death," while the heartbreaking title track laconically documents a young man's dissipation in the culture of the big city. Two highlights are "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," a twisted ode to the many earthly delights that tempt Wainwright, and "One Man Guy," a cover of one of father Loudon's greatest songs. Although Wainwright employed a number of producers (including primary boardsman Pierre Marchand and the Propellerheads' Alex Gifford), there is a marvelous consistency here that transcends the number of minor style shifts that occur. There are moments of great humor and great sadness on Poses, and Wainwright exploits the tension and strikes a balance between the two extremes to perfection.

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