This album is one Rufus Wainwright needed to record — and not because of all the upheaval in his life at the moment.
Between launching an opera and dealing with the illness of his mother Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright was probably not in the position to craft an album with a grand production.
All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is Rufus Wainwright unplugged — just him and piano. Even without the demands on his time and attention, the downsizing of his sound is a much-needed reaction to the trajectory of his previous work.
If his albums continued to swell, one of them would eventually burst.
Fans more familiar with his work than I am could argue that bubble popped with his last album, Release the Stars. At the time, I really liked it, but eventually I could see where others found fault.
If Wainwright recorded All Days Are Nights with less than half the personnel of Release the Stars, it would have been a welcome change. The fact he jettisoned everyone but himself seems more in keeping.
Of course, a song as revealing as "Martha" doesn’t need anything else. Wainwright sings his half of a phone message to his sister, and the language is conversational, almost mundane. But it’s so intimate, it’s uncomfortable.
The winding melody of "Sad With What I Have" could have been arranged for a full band, but it works better as a solo piece.
Wainwright is a brilliant pianist, something that can get lost on his bigger albums, but on All Days Are Nights, he fills that void remarkably.
"Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now!" is more impressive for its accompaniment than for its melody. The arpeggios of "Who Are You New York?" almost threaten to swallow Wainwright’s voice at the end. (Almost.) And it’s easy to picture an orchestra in place of his piano on "Les feux d’artifice t’appellent", an aria from his opera Prima Donna.
As refreshing as a stripped-down Rufus Wainwright album may be, All Days Are Nights doesn’t linger the way previous albums did. It’s a beautiful and affecting work while it’s playing, but once my playlist has moved to something else, it’s tough to recall the album.
At the same time, it’s difficult to picture this album any other way, and while I may miss Wainwright’s orchestral flourishes, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this kind of material from him in the future.