Rufus Wainwright finds the emotional power in performance in his video for "A Woman's Face - Reprise (Sonnet 20)".
The last few years have been quite a journey for Rufus Wainwright. Creatively, he put pop music aside and concentrated on his other interests, from his Grammy-nominated recreation of Judy Garland's fabled Carnegie Hall concert to the 2009 premiere of his opera, Prima Donna. Wainwright's personal life has been even more dramatic, witnessing the birth of his daughter, Viva; the death of his mother, singer/songwriter Kate McGarrigle; and his engagement to partner Jorn Weisbrodt.
All of these experiences inform his seventh studio album, Out of the Game, along with the input of a new collaborator, celebrated producer Mark Ronson. The results are the loosest, most accessible music of Wainwright's career, retaining his distinctive narrative sense and wry wit while adding classic pop pleasures.
"What I wanted was a warmth and a depth in terms of quality of sound, and a certain clarity that's still easy on the ears," he says. "I've done that whole ponderous, pseudo-genius thing, so it was fun to get in there and work really fast and do something that was more about the songs."
Wainwright and Ronson knew each other socially, but the idea of matching them in the studio was the idea of their mutual friend and publicist Barbara Charone (who, in turn, is paid tribute on the album's track "Barbara"). Ronsonwinner of the 2008 Grammy for "Producer of the Year," known for his work with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Christina Aguilerasays that initially he was unsure why the singer was turning to him, but that he was instantly inspired by the demo recording of the song that would become the album's title track.
"Hearing 'Out of the Game' set this warm, '70s, slightly Laurel Canyon-meets- Young Americans tone," he says. "I started to hear sounds and ideas as soon as I heard that demo."
Wainwright and Ronson both credit the influence of the great recordings of the 1970s on Out of the Game. They reference such giants as Elton John, Harry Nilsson, and Steely Dan, and the genre-blending and sense of songwriting ambition that characterized the best music of that era.
"We were both born in the '70s and that's the first music that we heard," says Wainwright. "I think it kind of gives us a right to pull from that, because our generation really was the last one that was actually there."
After the brief, initial demo session, they spent six months reviewing the new songs and listening to some of Wainwright's older, unreleased material. By the time the recording began, they had enough preparation and, as Wainwright says, were getting along like a house on fire, and found that they were able to work at a very productive pace, tracking sixteen songs in just eight days.
"There was nothing precious about the recordings," says Ronson. "The band was playing live, with Rufus singing on a couch in the control room. For the most part the songs are what was recorded in that take, and it feels like you're sitting there with the band."