Rufus Wainwright's third record features roots rockers like guitarist Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams) and drummer Levon Helm (the Band), but don't expect anything too down-home. "Levon was drumming along with my mother [Kate McGarrigle] playing banjo," Wainwright says, "and my father [Loudon Wainwright III] said, 'Oh my god, you're getting rootsy. I said, 'Don't worry, I'll uproot them.'"
Wainwright insists that the set, due in the fall, under the direction of producer Marius DeVries (Bjork, Madonna), is actually a kind of half-hearted stab at mainstream success. "When I first started out in this business the idea of being on the radio was paramount," he says. "With my first record I learned that what's on the radio and what people buy is pretty much the opposite of what I do. I think this record is a last-ditch attempt . . . but more in jest at this point. I'm giving you all one more chance, and then I'm going to retire and write opera."
According to Wainwright, the new songs fall neatly into three categories. "'I Don't Know What It Is' is definitely theatrical," he says. "There's a climax and a cigarette afterwards. The more intimate ones, just piano and voice, they're usually more obtuse, like 'Es Muss Ein' -- which is more introspective and more to do with me trying to show off on the piano. And the other songs like 'Natasha' are songs that people listen to almost, like chamber music. It's geared more towards a listener enjoying the song and trying to be as melodious as possible."
That three-tiered format could be the result of more balance and maturity in the twenty-nine-year-old's life. "Where the last record was about the demimondes or living the life of Reilly, this record is more about the consequences of that. It's not so much about love and longing -- it's about loneliness and being satisfied with yourself. There's a lot of blood in it."