Thursday, 9 July 2009

Rufus Wainwright: New York's prima donna

I’ve long been waiting for an excuse to foray the world of opera (as a spectator, not a performer) to see what the upper classes have been so jealously guarding for so very long. And now I think I've found one.

A few days ago I found out that Rufus Wainwright, one of my favourite singers and musicians, has spent the last year or so writing his first opera. Documenting a day in the life of an ageing opera diva on the eve of her great comeback, Prima Donna premieres at 2009’s Manchester International Festival this week!

Somehow it makes sense for Rufus to be the writer of an opera. Although I’m reluctant to say so, (not being the biggest fan of West End musicals) it’s easy to see elements of stage musical in his work, particularly the way he weaves narratives through his songs and sculpts complex yet vivid characters. I can’t wait to see how this translates to the stage.

Although I guess he is one, Rufus Wainwright is an artist that I won’t refer to as a singer-songwriter. That term has taken a battering in recent years, being used to denote anyone (usually male mid-twenties) who can play a guitar and sing and write a song. And so under this useless umbrella term we have the boring KT Tunstall, the dire Paulo Nutini, and the frankly quite evil one-man-boy-band that is James Morrison (who gave these people guitars?!). Yes Rufus can sing, write his own material, and play a generous handful of instruments, but his songs have an emotional depth and ambiguity that we’re not used to seeing in pop music today. You can listen to ‘California’ (Poses, 2001) over and over again and still not quite get what he’s on about when he croons ‘California, you’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed’. Besides, you're unlikely to get James Morrison in a trilby and fishnets for Comic Relief, let alone doing Judy Garland covers to a packed Glastonbury crowd.

Those of you claiming not to know any of Rufus’ work may already have unwittingly heard his effortlessly soaring vocals on ‘Complainte de la Butte’ (Moulin Rouge) or the beautifully simple melodic heartache of his ‘Hallelujah’ cover (Shrek). After you’ve reminded yourself of those, Spotify ‘Poses’, ‘The Consort’ (Poses, 2001) and ‘Oh What a World’ (Want One, 2003). And be amazed.

Now where did I leave my monocle and top hat...?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Whatzupwit Michael?

For those of you with Thriller overload, here’s a little known song of Michael Jackson’s that I’ve always been a fan of. Although most of you will have never heard this gem, Whatzupwitu has all the ingredients of a Jackson classic: Trippy video? Check. Addictive chorus? Check. Children’s choir on backing? Check. Eddie Murphy on lead? What?!

Ok so I lied. This track isn’t 100% pure, not-from-concentrate MJuice. Instead, it appears on Eddie Murphy’s ill-fated album of 1993, Love's Alright, which means you won’t find it anywhere in Jackson’s back catalogue of record breaking, um, records.

The video is one part cringe to nine parts super-cool. While Murphy, in wife-beater and porno 'tache, provides helpful actions to accompany his lyrics, Jackson looks effortlessly brilliant, pelvic thrusting one minute, and releasing flocks of Disney doves from the palms of his hands the next. The cheap bluescreen animation and throwaway drum-machine pop makes me suspect that the pair threw this three and a half minute wonder together in three and a half minutes, maybe one night at Neverland after getting smashed. In fact, if the tabloids are looking for evidence to confirm that Jackson was a prolific drug-user, they might find it in the video's opening frames in which a clown tells us that "The elephant eez dying" before an elephant (presumably the one which is dying) balances the globe on its back whilst pirouetting on the back of a turtle.

There will only ever be one Michael Jackson. Wait, what's that? Several other Miachel Jackson's raining from the sky? Jesus! It's literally pouring mini Jacksons! Meanwhile, an assortment of musical notes and peace symbols flurry around the pair who float through the sky exchanging cheeky bromantic banter, looking like they couldn’t be happier. And just when you think it can't get any sweeter, a classroom full of kids skips into the room - I mean, sky - to sing along. All together now... Whatzurrrp.

It's all so innocent, so care-free. That is until Eddie Murphy (in his wifebeater, remember) suddenly turns on his friend to brace him in a headlock and... that’s it! That’s where the video ends! I can’t help thinking that there is a whole load of grizzly unreleased footage depicting what happened next. Whether it's enough to incriminate Murphy as a murder suspect for Jackson’s death I guess remains to be seen.

How this was such a commercial failure I do not know. Why could the world not get enough of MJ's gag-inducing duet with Paul McCartney ("I'm a lover, not a fighter") but completely overlook this psycadelic, drum-machine ridden morsel? It turned out that not even Midas Jackson could give Eddie Murphy the golden touch he needed to kick start a music career. But what it does show is that all you need to make an ace music video is a bluescreen and a class full of hyperactive school kids buzzing on Maoam. Oh and Michael Jackson. Now there's a project for the summer.

Ok. You can all go back to listening to Billie Jean now.

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