Rufus Wainwright has recorded plenty of ambitious, idiosyncratically personal, not-always-accessible albums, but every so often he goes full pop, releasing an eclectic, catchy record designed to be embraced. Out Of The Game is one of the latter, joining Poses and Release The Stars as the Wainwright album most likely to disarm listeners less inclined to appreciate his occasional forays into the operatic, theatrical, or maudlin. Working with power producer Mark Ronson—who knows how to handle strong vocalists from his time shaping Amy Winehouse—Wainwright varies his approach from track to track on Out Of The Game, but generally works in a more laid-back singer-songwriter mode than he ever has before. Songs like the twangy, gospel-tinged “Jericho” and the murmuring acoustic ballad “Sometimes You Need” are oddly reminiscent of Ryan Adams, or of Wainwright’s own father, Loudon. Ronson brings in a few elements of R&B and club music, but mostly he just creates a suitably lively setting for Wainwright’s ’70s style roots-pop.
Out Of The Game contains songs that are unmistakably Wainwright, such as “Montauk,” a swirling, repetitive fantasia in which Wainwright imagines his daughter visiting him and his partner when they’re old and embarrassing; the defiantly campy “Welcome To The Ball,” with its synth washes, peppy horns, and plucky strings; and “Rashida,” a gossipy, namedropping thank-you note. But what’s more remarkable is the sheer number of “normal” songs, like the album-opening title track, which musically splits the difference between Elton John and George Harrison.
Out Of The Game features guest appearances by members of The Dap-Kings, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Wilco, and Ronson emphasizes the immediacy of their performances in his production, which reveals the clack of accordion keys, the vibration of every strum, the rattle of the snare, and the not-always-perfect harmonies of the background choirs. That frames Wainwright well, as he speculates, recalls, pines, and regrets—all tunefully.