Rufus Wainwright; I just don’t get it – Discuss


I’ve been keeping something to myself and I’m going to confess it here and now;  I don’t like Rufus Wainwright.

I was listening to a radio programme the other day which was an hour-long special about him and his work.  My ear tuned in to his voice and I realised that I actually find it irritating, grating and overly nasal, and not just when he speaks.  It dawned on me; I don’t get it and never have.  I remember the fuss when his album “Want To” was due out.  Radio DJs I admire and journalists I respect kept saying how amazing it was going to be; we all waited with bated breath.  Of course, I bought it.  It’s been listened to maybe twice and I’ve bought no more.

There is no doubt, he is a talented musician.  His back catalogue is impressive and range of work, broad.  He comes from musical royalty and good stock, there is no doubting his heritage.  And yet, I cannot understand the excitement that constantly surrounds him and his work; I just don’t get it.

Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to discuss this issue.  Have you ever found yourself to be the lone dissenting voice in a whirlwind of love for an artist? Have you ever found yourself confused by everyone else’s regard for a musician?  Can you persuade me that I am wrong?  Please try to change my mind.

34 thoughts on “Rufus Wainwright; I just don’t get it – Discuss

  1. Narcissus. Won’t be helping you change your mind, he gives me the creeps but then so does his dad, though I absolutely love his mum.

  2. I can understand your point of view, Sarah. I too have tried to like his voice, in theory he is right up my alley and I do admire his work, but I don’t want to listen to it. I feel similarly about Joy Division, just doesn’t float my boat…each to their own eh?

  3. I used to play Want One a lot but haven’t done so for a few years. Like Antony Hegarty I have to be in the right mood for his voice. Sometimes I love it and sometimes it’s a like taste I still haven’t acquired.

    Two people I used to just “not get” and then suddenly changed my mind about were Tom Waits, who seemed utterly bogus to me when I first heard him, and James Brown (honestly) whose music I could appreciate but was never really moved by – at least not for a very long time.

    • I totally get where you are coming from on the Tom Waits front. I know someone who adores him and I try, honestly, I try really hard to enjoy it. I can’t. What I do enjoy is listening to it as though it were poetry rather than a song….then I get it. Musically – not at all.

  4. This takes me back nearly ten years to what some of us may have a very vague recollection of: “Coldplaygate” on the ‘Spill.

    In a nutshell, someone (probably me) was negative about a band, which then led to a debate about it. When someone came out in Coldplay’s corner, we all realised that there’s never any reason to be publicly down on a band as someone reading may well like them. Much better to say nothing, eh? Like my old Mum said, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say….”

    Coldplaygate actually made me assess my indie snobbery, and that was it for me, I chilled out x10000 and was happier for it. “Fix You” may well have helped a lot of people through some troubled times and who am I say it’s drippy trite bollocks? No-one, that’s who.

    • I should say, this did then lead to the one unspoken rule of The Spill, which is why we never had problems with the trolls and negative arseholes who ruined things below the line on the Guardian years ago (I used to be a heavy commenter, back before the internet turned rotten). Historically, we did have one horrible commenter on the Spill, who soon got blocked/blanked/dealt with. And some clashes of personalities, again that got sorted swiftly.

      • Thanks for the history.
        This isn’t me disrespecting Rufus and his music. This was me trying to open a discussion about being the only one who doesn’t seem to get it when everyone else does and raves about it. It was prompted by a discussion I earwigged into about those “classic albums you must own” lists. The individual writing was saying that they felt a bit weird and almost a bit guilty when they realised they didn’t really enjoy one of the albums near the top of the list. As a music lover of many genres, with an eclectic taste and very open to listening to new sounds, it always interests me when I can’t get on with an artist. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the skill, creativity, talent and hard work that goes into their work.
        If we can’t discuss these things like proper grown ups without getting annoyed and cross with each other, I’m not sure what the point is of the blog. If we all always agreed with each other, life would be utterly dull. I want readers and contributors to challenge my comments and share their own experiences. I want Spillers to change my mind.
        Btw; I am a Coldplay convert. I used the diss them all the time to my friends as being a bit wet. Then I watched their live performance at Glastonbury and was convinced by their ability to bring joy to huge crowds. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of me hopes I have an epiphany like your Coldplay one with Rufus one day…
        However – do not get me started on books; on that topic I am an uber-snob….

        • do not get me started on books; on that topic I am an uber-snob….

          Oh God, the book snobs btl in the Guardian are the worst! The ones who appear to have read every novel on the Booker longlist and despised them all. Please tell me you’re not like that.

          • No I’m not one of those! I’m just very obstinate about what I read. I have this irrational aversion to best sellers; if everyone else has read it, I don’t want to. This is what I mean by snobbery. I know it’s stupid; I’ve probably missed out on hundreds of great books because of this idiotic stand point. Despite me shunning these texts I’m always fascinated to hear what other readers think of them. I almost never soldier through a book of I can’t get on with it; life is too short to read a book you’re not enjoying. I read a lot of blog posts or friends tell me things like “it started bad and never got better, but I didn’t want to give up on it” and I wonder why someone would be a martyr to their reading? Snobbish. & Then finally; I’ve been called a book snob because I read a lot of translated fiction – not exclusively but I read a lot. I like foreign language b films too, so maybe that makes me film snob. The good thing is, I know my attitude comes across as snobby. What I don’t do is avoid people who read stuff I don’t. I love talking to anyone who reads. I’m fascinated by the books they love. All reading is good. I just discriminate when it comes to my own material.

        • Sarah – I totally agree with you on Rufus Wainwright. Years ago I went to a concert featuring the McGarrigle sisters, Rufus and Martha. A great deal of the concert was given over to Rufus as he was making his way as an artist but I hated every minute of his performance because of his style of singing. Apart from the odd occasion, I have managed to avoid having to listen to him until now. He features in the latest Samsung advert and it’s already driving me nuts. He is, of course, very talented – just not to my taste.

    • In the early days of RR, I remember FrogPrincess being a great advocate of disco music. After following her posts, my opinions changed and I started to see/hear things I’d never had before. The openness and inclusiveness of RR was one of its great features – I say was as I rarely go there anymore; it is just too unwieldy.

  5. I used to be a massive Rufus Wainwright fan, but haven’t kept up over the last 10 years.

    I can see why his voice grates, but Poses and Want One are two of my favourite albums of the noughties – great songwriting with soaring ambition and daringly extravagant music.

    I think Want Two is where he started believing his own hype, and his vanity and pretension – which were gloriously compelling in his earlier work – started to get out of hand. He also seemed to pay less atttention to good songwriting – although it still has its moments (“The Art Teacher”, “Hometown Waltz”, “Gay Messiah”). The album after that took things even further (though “Going To A Town” is a classic), and then I kind of lost interest – though I probably ought to properly investigate what he’s done since.

    If you want a playlist of favourites, I’m happy to oblige.

    A band who I’ve tried really hard to love are Arcade Fire: I’ve listened to them a lot, really clicked with the odd track, but overall… well, I quite like them. Same goes for the last 20 years of Radiohead.

    • That is a really interesting comment Barney. I would love a playlist of favourites; a handful of tunes I can play over and try to really get into. If you have time, that would be very lovely. Thanks.

    • Ali: Could it be that you don’t like the image that’s been presented via the media, that I can understand, but Sinatra was sublime there wash’t a better male singer on the planet, he was the male Ella. And I’m only referring to his enunciation, his phrasing and his tone.
      Who do you think is/was better than him?

  6. I’ve come to pretty much the same conclusion re his voice, Sarah. And I think the general public has too, given how niche he has remained despite being plugged to death by influential benefactors such as Elton John. I bought Poses and Want One and, because I’m a sucker for the hype (and, let’s face it, because I’m predisposed to liking flamboyant gay artists), tried to convince myself I loved them. But at best I admired their ambition. I’ve not bought anything by him since. That said, the title track of Poses is a devastatingly gorgeous song of disillusionment at the emptiness of it all… so I’ll give him that one!

  7. I have both “Want” albums and I went through a phase where I played them all the time. Nowadays I have to be in the right mood to listen to Rufus, or I’ll find him irritating and have to take the CD off. Mind you, I really cannot stand his dad at all.

    I am not going to diss any bands (although I really cannot stick Coldplay at all) but there are a couple of bands that people are surprised that I don’t like, seeing as I am a big prog fan and those two bands are Marillion and Rush. I find both of them utterly unlistenable.

    There are quite a few critically-acclaimed acts who I’ve listened to and just shrugged and said “Meh” and some who I’ve thought “Seriously? You are having a laugh”. In the end, it all comes down to personal taste, doesn’t it?

  8. OK, I put together a quick greatest hits playlist – not trying to be representative, just some tunes I love: 3 songs from Poses, 3 from Want One and one each from Want Two and Release The Stars.

    Hope you enjoy, but if you don’t, well, there’s plenty of other artists out there.

      • I’ve listened to this a couple of times now. The only one I felt I could listen to regularly was California, probably because it is more upbeat than the others. The Art Teacher is a poignant track which I can appreciate for its sentiment. I’ve made a Spotify list of these tracks and will keep listening! Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together for me!

        • Pleasure. It was hard to keep it to 8 tracks. California is definitely a more accessible one – it’s a shame he didn’t release an album or two of poppier stuff like this before giving rein to his orchestral ambitions.

  9. Don’t dislike him, but it seems a bit flat or missing some ingredients.

    Sounds a bit like Elton John without his energy or flamboyance. Also could use some of his old man’s sense of humour.

  10. Basically I’m with Blimpy – partly because I remember Coldplaygate, partly because so much of the music I love is, as I’m well aware, not to everyone’s taste. Admitting to not liking a popular or critical darling, fine – especially if there’s an element of “honestly, I’ve tried, and I’m still open to being persuaded”. Implying that anyone who likes an act you don’t must be an idiot, not cool. I don’t get R. Wainwright at all, for similar reasons to others, but I can sort of see why he’d appeal to someone else. I feel the same about Radiohead…

    • I think that’s where I’m coming from isn’t it? I have asked to be persuaded. I have responded to a contributor willing to make me a playlist with enthusiasm. I haven’t called Rufus fans idiots… What I have said is that I don’t understand the furor that constantly surrounds Wainwright. I don’t think that is disrespectful to him or his fans, it’s me admitting to what I think of as a failing on my part…

      • Sorry, it was precisely your “please try to change my mind” line that I was thinking of in characterising the positive way of expressing doubt about an artist, but I should have said that explicitly.

        • Oh sorry. Was getting a bit paranoid that I was being unfair. Thanks for the explanation.
          Btw, have been meaning to say how much I’ve enjoyed #CthulhuUK over on Twitter. Brought some light relief during some darker moments over the last weeks. Made my friends laugh also. V pleased to see it now has its own Twitter account. Inspired.

          • No, I should definitely have been clearer. Re CthulhuUK: I’ve found it rather therapeutic, to reduce the pain of the actual present and the dread of what may happen next by imagining an even more appalling future…

  11. Hah! Missed this. There are several artists and songs recommended this week that I just don’t like or don’t get. I’ll probably list a couple of them though because I understand that people like them.

  12. I have never taken to, nor understood the acclaim accorded, Jeff Buckley. I love his dad’s music, one of my favourites, but I just couldn’t get Jeff, though I have tried. I like Loudon (even though, personality-wise, he’s not a very nice person), but that’s probably ‘cos his first couple of albums, we played to death when they came out.

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