Friday, September 14, 2012

Song #255 of 9999 - Oh What a World by Rufus Wainwright

Song #255 of 9999 

Title: Oh What a World
Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Year: 2003
Album: Want One

Rufus Wainwright lost me with the Want albums. Too theatrical, too flowery, too overblown, too marble-mouthed. (Dare I say too gay?) Rufus Wainwright was so refreshing and Poses is a masterpiece. Each featured exotic elements but never drifted too far from the primary objective of making great pop music. Want One sounds like a collection of songs for a musical and, dammit, if that's what Rufus wants to write, he should go write one. At least then the songs will have some context and a story to move along.

That being said, the opening track to Want One is really good and worth taking a look at for its clever use of Ravel's Bolero as its primary source material. Wainwright's vocal is woven around Ravel's melody as a descant, filling in the spaces left by the longer notes of the French composer's famous composition. Like Bolero, "Oh What a World" features long phrases alternating rolling eight notes and sustained long tones. Wainwright's lyric is presented as a round, wrapping around three times with increasing intensity and complexity, as tight vocal harmonies that would not seem out of place on his mother's records glisten against the theme and variations of Ravel's Spanish dance movement. By the crescendo's end, the song makes a very good case for Wainwright's wished-for NY Times headline: Life is Beautiful.

P.S. I usually don't link to live performances but this one is so true to the record and so good, I couldn't resist. The Wizard of Oz costuming makes reference to the song's title, as the Wicked Witch of the West screams "Oh What a World" as she is melting away. Theatrical to the end, Wainwright even makes sure he has a cigarette in hand to mimic the smoke that rises from her melting body. What a card.

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