- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

On “Want Two,” Rufus Wainwright’s companion to last year’s pre-rock pop opus “Want One,” the sacred rubs elbows with the profane.

Having helped himself to Catholic liturgy for the incantatory opening track “Agnus Dei,” the Canadian singer-songwriter later plays down his status as a hero to homosexuals, proclaiming himself, with accompaniment from Ray Charles-style backing vocals, “Rufus the baptist” — a lesser prophet — to a forthcoming “gay messiah.”

What could it mean to “use your hips as fodder”? The imagination runs wild, just as Mr. Wainwright hoped it would.

The “Want One/Two” project as a whole is daring in its scope, but “Two” is the more laser-like of the sister recordings. On most of its 12 tracks, Mr. Wainwright, under the direction of producer Marius deVries (Madonna, Bjork), buries ambivalence about relationships, home and family and impressions of the culture in a sound layered thick with strings and horns.

The marriage of prettiness and petulance, of gutter humor and classical tunefulness, is nothing if not a riveting listen.

Singing in the half-lilt, half-menace voice of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Mr. Wainwright defines love with a masochistic flair: “You’re not my lover, and you never will be/’Cause you’ve never done anything to hurt me.”

He confesses to wanting to “torch my hometown” next to a loping French accordion on “Hometown Waltz.” “I can’t say that I’m cruising/Not that I don’t like cruising,” he cops on “This Love Affair,” a melancholy piano ballad that sounds like something left over from a Philip Glass movie score.

There’s a definite sense of self-importance to Mr. Wainwright’s finely wrought dramas, from the cover photo of himself in drag as a medieval martyr-heroine to the sly couplet (found in “Waiting for a Dream”) about the prospect of reproductive cloning: “Yesterday, I heard they cloned a baby/Now, can I finally sleep with me?”

One gets the feeling that Mr. Wainwright would be happier if there were more Rufus Wainwrights in the world, which would evidently be bad news for firefighters in the singer’s native Montreal.

But it would be good news for those looking for more smarts and musicianship in their pop music.

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