When Rufus Wainwright released Want One last year, he promised that its sequel would feature more "operatic weird stuff" than its predecessor. That promise would make more sense if operatic weird stuff didn't already play a major role in his music. Wainwright's poppiest songs come laden with concert-hall adornments, and when he strips down his arrangements, his voice still provides a reminder that he owes as much to the classical world as to his father's folk tradition. Taken largely from the sessions that produced Want One, Want Two isn't quite the experimental diversion his comments suggested, but it does set itself apart as its own kind of album.
Where Want One opened with the overwhelming "Oh What A World," its follow-up opens with "Agnus Dei," a slow-burning arrangement of a Latin prayer. Where One used pounding flourishes to command attention, its sequel earns attention by other means. The spare, haunting "The Art Teacher" barely veers from a simple piano phrase as Wainwright takes its protagonist from a girlhood in a school uniform to a life as a bored bride wearing a "uniform-ish, pantsuit sort of thing." Camp at its most deadpan, "Gay Messiah" finds the self-proclaimed "Rufus The Baptist" imagining a savior in tube-socks descending on Fire Island.
A quieter, more intimate, and more demanding set than its predecessor, Want Two offers few of Want One's sweeping pleasures, but it cultivates a creeping beauty that's as satisfying in its own right. Wainwright creates a mood of melancholy languor and settles into it for the length of the album. It sounds a little operatic and a little weird, but for these sad, hopeful, occasionally sly songs, it mostly sounds just right.