Vibrate: The Best Of
Universal Music Enterprises
Spanning 1998-2012 here is the best of Rufus Wainwright. I’ve always found him best as an album artist, each album feels – so completely – like its own thing, closed off from anything else. You recognise the voice, the albums line up next to one another because of that voice, the family name and some of the family songwriting concerns (chiefly: each other) but each Rufus Wainwright album is its own discovery – and though they haven’t all been great I’ve enjoyed hearing where he goes, how he got there, and sometimes trying to understand why he went there.
I am not sure he excerpts all that well.
The best stuff here, in the context of hearing this as a bunch of separate songs, is the material on the second disc, the unreleased tracks, the live versions, the soundtrack compilations, what was obviously designed – in following the flow of the compilation – as the second best. But his covers of Across The Universe and Chelsea Hotel No. 2 are better than his cover of Hallelujah, the inclusion of something from the Judy Garland songbook (Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart) seems as important as any of his own songwriting (for what it’s worth my favourite Wainwright album is his song-for-song recreation of Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall concert) and songs like The Maker Makes and Chic and Pointless seem as important as most of what we hear on the “hits” disc (the first disc of this two-CD set).
That said I do still like Going To A Town, Out of the Game, Poses, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, Dinner at Eight and Vibrate. So that’s not bad going for excerpting. But I would prefer to hear them with the relevant songs around them – Rufus Wainwright’s pomp has him singing big too often and you can almost imagine him doing jazz-hands in the rehearsal room when he thinks he might have written a good one. I prefer his music with the “misses” around the hits. The Poses album and Want Two will get more plays than this for me. Still. That Judy album and Want One too.
But I guess I can see the point of this for newcomers. It just feels a bit too much like a conscious effort at having a hits collection when he hasn’t really had that many (or any) hits. The best of Rufus Wainwright – for me – is in hearing the bad bits too. It’s those missteps, those toned-down parts, those strange indulgences where we get the truth of him – whatever that is, whatever that’s worth – as an artist. This is just the icing, not the cake. And having just the sweet stuff makes it a bit sickly.