Rufus Wainwright is one of those larger-than-life musical personalities who's so widely beloved by critics that "people who kind of like music" (as Doug Martsch called Top 40 radio lovers) can't seem to stop ignoring him. Or, as the case may be, they may simply be ignoring him because he doesn't fit neatly into anything other than the amorphous "singer/songwriter" category, and he's been openly gay since the get-go of his career. Nevertheless, his vocal talent and song-stylings place him firmly in the tradition of piano-man songwriters like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, two of America's greats who never really cracked the egg of stardom for lack of a marketable handsomeness. Wainwright's handsome -- if not totally hot -- but the gay card has played against him. Sadly enough, just as our culture has come to unflinchingly accept shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on prime time, Wainwright has released his most forgettable album to date. There are two undeniably great songs: "Oh What a World" and "Go or Go Ahead" -- both of which have exquisite orchestration that takes them close to the escape velocity of Queen's most ecstatic moments. But the rest of the album is, sadly, a lot of pleasantly relaxing melodies with a smattering of brilliant lines ("I tried to dance to Britney Spears/ I guess I'm getting on in years" in the song that also uses the painfully regrettable line "My phone's on vibrate for you"). Few albums are worth the money for one song, but two?
-- Noel Black
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Dub Narcotic Sound System
Handclappin K Records
This Calvin Johnson-led lo-fi party band from Olympia, Wash., home of the lo-fi party, has released what may be the greatest dance song to ever come out of the underground: "Handclappin." Lines like "Handclappin/ Handclappin/ People say: 'Calvin, stop rappin.'" make it all the more charming. With bands and musicians as seemingly various as Jr./Sr., Peaches, Justin Timberlake and Outkast turning out booty-shakin' tunes that duly defy all genre allegiances, 2003 may just be remembered as the year of "deca-dance." The rest of the EP's four tracks won't cause involuntary pelvis convulsions, but they hold up.