Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Unfollow The Rules’ is the Ultimate Tour De Force.

The singer-songwriter gifts us with a brand-new, original musical rollercoaster of an album.

Following eight full-length albums, 2020 is the year Rufus Wainwright will grace us with his ninth: Unfollow The Rules. 

 

After releasing so much original material, I’m sure we have all been biting our nails in anticipation of what will come next. Wainwright has been teasing us throughout the year with two singles, ‘Alone Time and ‘You Ain’t Big, both of which featuring on Unfollow The Rules.

 

Wainwright calls the album a product of life experience which has rounded him as an artist, and I can confirm that having listened to the album prior to its release, it is an absolute powerhouse. It now sits among my favourite albums by Rufus, along with ‘Want Two’ and ‘Out Of The Game’.

 

 

‘Trouble In Paradise’, based on Anna Wintour and the fashion world, opens the album in a chilled style, with a moderate tempo and soft accompanying strings and luscious harmonies. The track particularly reminded me of Queen’s Freddie Mercury, whom Wainwright has cited as an influence on his musical style. The leading vocals and rich harmony, sung in a choral style, feels particularly reminiscent of Mercury’s musicality. 

 

The following track, ‘Damsel In Distress’, uses a vast instrumental palette which scatters the song with layers of harmony in the form of guitar chords, violins and vocal harmonies, as well as standard bass and drums. Perhaps the most compelling element of this song is its rhythmic soundscape. From common 4/4 time signature, the pulse breaks into a flamenco rhythmic style for a couple of bars before then moving into a slow ballad, stripping the instrumentation right back. This is a track which surely demonstrates Rufus’ incredible ability to dabble with contrasting sounds. 

 

 

It is near impossible to have a favourite, but the title track, ‘Unfollow The Rules’, is a close contender. At almost seven minutes long, this song is a dazzling rhapsody. Beginning in a ballad style with merely vocals and piano, the lyrics state with painful honesty:

“Sometimes I feel like my heart turns to dust […] sometimes I feel like my brain turns to leaves”.

The star of this track is undoubtedly Rufus’ unique vocals, with melodies accentuating both the highs and lows of his voice. By the bridge, an explosive musical climax is reached, concluded with soulful vocals and an almost orchestral outpour of instrumental sound. This is an extremely bold song which plays like an emotional rollercoaster and showcases Wainwright’s musicianship at its very best. 

 

 

‘You Ain’t Big’ instantly calms this musical intensity,  in the form of a laid back, simplistic piece. Speaking of fame and paving his way in the music industry, Wainwright candidly references US states and cities known to the music industry against a chilled, guitar-driven backdrop. The other shortest gem on the album, at just under two minutes long, is ‘My Little You’, a song for Wainwright’s daughter. Posed as a ballad, the vocals and piano accompaniment form a serene duet, the piano harmony particularly reminding me of classical pianists such as Debussy; given Wainwright’s work with opera and classical styles, it is not difficult to identify these influences. 

 

 

Rufus doesn’t shy away from the raw honesty of love in his work, and ‘Romantical Man’ and ‘Only The People That Love’ are fine examples of this. The former is laced with nostalgia, and being a self-confessed ode to London, it is easy to see why. The latter track is another which particularly moved me. Posed as an ode to love itself, the chilled guitar chords used as a backdrop also take on a wistful tone and are only emphasised by haunting vocal harmonies as the song progresses. The lyrics, however, steal the limelight here. With lines such as ‘Only the people who love may cry […] Only the people who love may fly’, it’s difficult not to fall in love with this song. 

 

 

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We are now just 5 days away from releasing the #UnfollowTheRules album! I truly can’t even believe it. Track #7 is #OnlyThePeopleThatLove, a song that has been floating around for a couple of years (and some of you might have heard it live already) before finally finding its home on this record. This one is arguably the most distilled. It’s completely directed to the outside world, pushing the philosophy that love is all-conquering. Even though it’s a little esoteric in places, people immediately react to it because it’s so positive. We must remember love. That’s why my drawing for this song resembles a tarot card. Thank you to #JonathanSafranFoer, one of my favorite novelists, for your lovely quote about the record! Pre-order is available now, link in bio!

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‘Peaceful Afternoon’ and ‘This One’s For The Ladies (That Lunge) are the perfect fusions playful rhythm with operatic, orchestral musicality- a feature that differentiates Wainwright’s music. Both tracks utilize 6/8 time, which gives the tracks an undeniably contagious pulse. The latter showcases extreme vocal lows from Rufus towards the end of the song, with operatic harmonies simultaneously at work. The tracks are also claimed by Wainwright himself to be tributes, with the former being a song about his husband and daughter, whilst the latter is a warm recognition of a group of Rufus’ fans. 

 

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The end of the album is punctuated with a slightly darker sonic tone. ‘Early Morning Madness’, which is allegedly about hangovers (relatable!), fully exploits Rufus’ more sinister sound palette. The use of a slower tempo, minor key and tense guitar riffs act as an undercurrent. The song is unnerving with its constant tempo, building musical tension that comes to a head with Rufus’ higher vocal notes in the middle of the track, followed by a stark gong which penetrates the soundscape. ‘Hatred’ builds a similar tension throughout as it explores this dark theme, using string vibrato in the beginning before a more conventional pop beat enters. This track is a seamless intertwining of pop and orchestral musical elements. 

 

 

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Track #10 on #UnfollowTheRules is #EarlyMorningMadness. It’s all about hangovers. I’d call this a parlour trick. I’m taking the listener on a journey. It’s fun, but dark, about addiction, essentially. The struggle that never ceases. On one hand, something could inspire me greatly. On the other, it could kill me. You can really feel the live vibe and the machinations. It’s just fantastic to perform, and the arrangement we created for @the_paramour_estate was magnificent. Shoutout to @jacobmannmusic and your wonderful gong work! The album version is even more haunting than the Paramour one. Thank you @theofficialsting for your quote, I know this one’s your favorite! The madness I’m feeling now is the anticipation of album release, I’m not even sure I’ll be able to sleep I’m so excited. Are you ready?

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‘Alone Time’ marks the final track of the album and, very fittingly, is a profound conclusion to Unfollow The Rules. The song is low key, featuring dreamy piano accompaniment and rich vocal, choral accompaniment, playing like a soothing lullaby. Lyrically, the song is existential and discusses the nature of life experience, this appears a very natural and beautiful way to end a crafted masterpiece. 

 

As someone who feels deeply connected to both the pop music scene and the classical music world, Wainwright’s music is a rare gem that fuses elements of both worlds in a truly original style. With its raw integrity, Unfollow The Rules is yet another incredible album that epitomises this. 

 

Rufus’ ninth album will be available on all streaming platforms on July 10th, be there or be square! 

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