If Holden Caulfield were a 33-year-old singer/songwriter, he might record an album something like Release the Stars—Rufus Wainwright’s forthcoming fifth studio release. Mr. Wainwright, after all, has never been one to conform, and Release the Stars, on sale May 15, is no exception to his rule. On all 12 tracks, Mr. Wainwright, the son of folk musicians Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, manages to marry his honest, biting lyrics with fabulously camp crescendos, Main Street harmonies and rhythmic lullabies that dwell somewhere between here and fast asleep. The result: an operatic, gather-ye-rosebuds package that is unapologetically human and, yes, often way over the top—perhaps a bit like Mr. Wainwright himself.
Backed by Geffen Records and produced by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Release the Stars was laid in Berlin last summer (around the time of Mr. Wainwright’s ruby-slippered homage to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall). And traces of Mr. Tennant are likely found in Release the Stars’ generous grab bag of poppy hooks and complex chord sequences, though other outside influences can also be found. “Rules and Regulations”—a point of lyrical resolution in the album—bridges its verses to the chorus with peppy equatorial horns that are decidedly un-Rufian. Another, “Between My Legs,” hosts audible allusions to a virtual Halloween party of musical acts, including the Violent Femmes, Pink Floyd, the Strokes and, finally (with a step-ladder effect from the Gothic organ), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Most of the other tracks, too, bear not only the subtle hit-maker stylings of Mr. Tennant, but also those of the album’s mixers, Marius de Vries (Madonna) and Andy Bradfield (David Bowie).
That most of Release the Stars’ autobiographical lyrics are raw and strung with candor is, by now, largely expected from Mr. Wainwright. His 1998 debut album, Rufus Wainwright, tellingly combined the serotonin-soaked imagery of Dalí with the throbbing emotional primacy of Rothko. Even 2003’s Want One featured the exceedingly dismal “Go or Go Ahead.” But with his new effort, things seem to have changed—Mr. Wainwright’s tempestuous fixations have been shed. Take the first track, “Do I Disappoint You,” whose titular query unexpectedly swells with far more sincerity than cynicism. And even in the following song—a pre-released lullaby enigmatically called “Going to a Town”—Mr. Wainwright grows his lyrics from the same honest soil, but here the declarative chorus, “I’m so tired of you, America,” ripens with sober regret.
On May 16 at 7 p.m., Mr. Wainwright will perform from Release the Stars, live, at the Barnes & Noble on Union Square.
Union Square Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17 Street, http://www.barnesandnoble.com