Rufus Wainwright – Unfollow the Rules

Unfollow the Rules

Rufus Wainwright

2020 – Rock


The first original album in eight years by Rufus Wainwright has several negative points and it is certainly not his best, however, still stands firm with an important album for him find himself.

Back in February, when Rufus Wainwright announced his new studio album, Unfollow the Rules, many expectations were created around this new project. It was Wainwright’s first Pop/Rock album in almost a decade, since his last album that did not follow a Theater or Opera concept or trend, Out of the Game, had been released just over eight years ago. Furthermore, Rufus is 46 years old, the same age as his father, Loudon Wainwright III, when he launched the considered masterpiece of his career, History, and the same age that Leonard Cohen was when he wrote “Hallelujah.” It must be difficult to deal with so many pressures, right? Well, Rufus was very confident. He said to NME, “My aim is to emulate the greats of yore whose second acts produced their finest work—Leonard Cohen when he made The Future, when Sinatra became Sinatra in his 40s, when Paul Simon put out Graceland.” However, is Unfollow the Rules really Rufus’ masterpiece?

Well, no, it is not and it is far from being. Fortunately, we can also say that Unfollow the Rules is by far not his worst album. Of course, this album is not the same as what Graceland was for Simon, what The Future was for Cohen and much less what “Hamlet” was for Shakespeare, however, still, it has countless positive points. Wainwright’s writing here reaches a complex level—he manages to write almost theatrical lyrics but still manages to be captivating and really exciting—and the sound is surrounded by an intelligent and impressive mix between Rock, Pop, Opera and Folk. The best moments here range from tracks that seem to have left a stage in a road bar to songs from great European tragic plays. In the end, that’s what Unfollow the Rules is: a great play that shows a lost actor who is about to reach a place where he will be the only one of the kind.

There couldn’t be a better track than “Trouble In Paradise” to open the album. This one carries several elements, positive and negative, that appeared at some point in the album: a poetic lyric full of references, a mixture of Rock with Pop and Country and beautiful vocals of Rufus that seem to have come out of a great play. In the first few seconds, it looks like we’re listening to a Rock album, but when we get to the chorus, it looks like we hit a classic 80’s/90’s Pop album. A harmoniously beautiful mix, just like an album. From “You Ain’t Big,” which is a very country track that shows Rufus singing about how you have to conquer certain places to become a real artist, to “Early Morning Madness,” which is a terrible, sad and dark theater play, everything here seems to talk almost all the time.

Wainwright has great influences of Opera, Orchestra and Theater—his latest project, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, for example, was a reading of sonnets from the English writer—and Unfollow the Rules has these strong tendencies too. The clearest moment where this occurs is in “My Little You,” where Rufus appears with his crystalline voice in front of a grand piano singing in a strong and striking way. As much as this song is not bad, it ended up interfering a little in the album since it is the only song in the album like that, becoming a point outside the curve and even ending a little with the cohesion of the album. On the other hand, even though “Damsel In Distress” does not have a characteristic sound of something theater and appeals to something more Pop, Rock and Country, the lyrics of this track seem like a modern reinterpretation of classic poetry. “Will you forever be a damsel in distress?/Will you forever be a harbinger of loneliness/Yes, I remember smiles/Yes, I remember wiles,” he sings. In addition to having a lyric that is filled by several of the best lines on the album, this track is captivating and extremely enjoyable. “What the hell is that?” we wonder.

The most negative point of Unfollow the Rules is the songs that extend more than they should. The title track of the album, “Unfollow The Rules,” has beautiful Rufus’ vocals that manage to transcend the dark feelings of the lyrics. However, even with this deep poetry that is the lyrics, the fact that it lasts almost seven minutes with the voice of Rufus being performed very slowly and dragged made the track become dragged, monotone and quite boring. Obviously, it is a beautiful track, however, you will hardly come back to it constantly since the only point that it really reaches an exciting climax is in the end when everything becomes a kind of waltz that is “bigger than life.” Suffering from the same problem, “Romantical Man” ends up becoming a bit boring thanks to the lyrics that show Rufus constantly using theatrical scenes to assert himself as a romantic. Even with a pleasant and, again, beautiful sound, the fact that it extends for a long time and barely introduces new elements that would give a progression to the track, makes this song lose more and more impact over time.

However, some may claim that it is necessary for romantic and sentimental tracks to be that way, however, Unfollow the Rules itself proves the opposite with tracks that can be intense the same, but without rolling and without lasting almost seven minutes of a purely monotone sound. “Peaceful Afternoon” presents a more dynamic rhythm, with instruments that seem to dance in a great hall while Rufus sings for them from a stage. This track is captivating, it’s not dragged, it’s straight to the point and yet it manages to be beautiful and impressive. “‘Cause it’s all a part of the game/Yeah, it’s all a part of the symphony/And I pray that your face is the last I see/On a peaceful afternoon/Leaving the living room,” he sings grandly, almost screaming his feelings. The next track, “Only the People That Love,” features a calmer sound, yet still captivating, beautiful and dynamic. In this track that mixes a drums, occasional strings and soft synthesizers, Rufus sings about how the people who still believe in love are the best people. He says, “Only the people that love, may dream/In the world of the silent scream/Only the people that love may cry/In the world of eternal goodbye.” These songs did a lot more in four minutes than the others did in seven or eight.

Unfortunately Unfollow the Rules doesn’t end as good as it started. “This One’s For The Ladies (THAT LUNGE!)” is a kind of music about how strong women are but how they are not valued in the world even if they fight for it, but, unfortunately, this theme didn’t end up matching the sound creating a relatively weak song. After “Devils And Angels (Hatred),” a song that even with a relatively usual catchy chorus at Opera and Theater ended up being a dull track, we have “Alone Time,” which is one of the most sleepy spots of the album. Even with the beautiful vocals that are worked in layers and the lyrics that show Rufus wishing him some time to recover, the music ended up being a bit boring and monotonous, becoming one of those that you will hardly want to hear again. However, this is how great lost actors find themselves: works with difficulties that lead their authors to the best paths. And Unfollow the Rules is one of those.

LISTEN ON: Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal

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