Rufus' Sleeping Beauty

Wainwright mixes politics and religion on "Want 2"

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After breaking his third album in half to release Want One last fall, Rufus Wainwright planned to get the topical Want Two out before this year's presidential election. "It tries to tackle some of the earthly troubles that we're in right now," he told Rolling Stone. Following a four-track iTunes preview this June, Want Two finally sees the light of day in its entirety on today, along with a DVD of a live performance this year at the San Francisco Fillmore.

This second, twelve-track installment runs the gamut from the operatic, brooding "Agnus Dei," a Latin prayer for peace; to the whimsical "Little Sister." In a candid chat, Wainwright talks politics, confesses to his early envy of Jeff Buckley and reveals his female alter-ego.

"Agnus Dei" is an interesting choice to start off the record, both in mood and theme.

I wanted essentially to open the album with a bang . . . One of the things that fascinates me about this time period is that with the conservative American attitude out there, it's considered that if you're not super-religious or heterosexual [laughs], you have no spirituality and you don't really care about the well-being of America and the world. It's just to put my two cents in, in terms of wanting to heal from what's been going on all over the world -- not only in America . . . I really feel that we've reached the point where we all have to look for a power above -- or some greater meaning -- to show us the way.

You said in our last interview that the only thing missing from this album was a big radio hit. Have you found it?

Everyone seems to be gravitating toward the second track, which is "The One You Love." . . . I think it's a very catchy tune: it uses a lot the elements of my style in a very accessible way. It's got the weird Rufus piano parts and the harmonies and obsequious chords and stuff, but on the other hand, you can hum along. So, I think it's a good way of representing this record.

"Memphis Skyline" is so striking with its references to Jeff Buckley. You're pretty candid about your envy of him, and yet it ends up as a beautiful tribute.

Yeah, I was really jealous of him and resentful of his success for a long time when I started out -- mainly because Sin-E in New York [the location where Buckley recorded his 1993 debut EP] refused my tape three times [laughs] and didn't want anything to do with me. So I began a couple-year-long hatred of Jeff Buckley. Years later, I actually met him in person and we hung out. This was after I had time to make my own record and have my own set of problems. I realized he was just a very, very delicate and sensitive and depressed guy who, if you blew on him, would crumble. I didn't offer him a blowjob [laughs] but had a really lovely night hanging out with him. That night I realized just the futility of jealousy. And, of course, a month later he died. He would have been an amazing guy to sing with. It would have at least made a great tour -- or photo shoot.

You're continuing the knight/solider motif the Want 2 cover art. Who are you portraying this time?

At first, I just thought it would be a Sleeping Beauty character, and it could be the typical story of being awoken by your loved one and riding off into the sunset on a unicorn. But a friend of mine pointed out the story of the Lady of Shallot. That she, kind of like Sleeping Beauty, would sew and knit. And then one day she saw Sir Lancelot walk by the window and fell in love with him. And he proceeded to rape her. Then she went crazy and got into a boat and sang herself to death down the river. And everybody could hear her in the village. So it's kind of an eerie end. It ended up being a much darker story than Sleeping Beauty. I feel, after the fact, that that is who I'm meant to represent: the Lady of Shallot.