Rufus Wainwright has dialed back the elaborate orchestration and campy tendencies on this sombre new disc, but even when stripped down to just piano and voice, he's still a flamboyant, larger-than-life performer. Written and recorded while his mother, Kate McGarrigle, was dying of cancer, it's a deeply personal album, and definitely not an easy listen. However, you don't pick up a Rufus Wainwright album if you don't have an appetite for intensity.
While much of the lyrical content deals specifically and literally with what was going on in his life, he's also based many songs on Shakespearean sonnets. Wainwright is definitely not an artist short on ambition, and while you occasionally wish he'd show a bit more restraint, most of the time you love him because he doesn't.
This is the kind of disc that could bum you out on even the sunniest spring day. That's not necessarily a bad thing - isn't there enough sunny, disposable pop out there to justify some extravagantly dark, introspective music, too?
Top track: Martha
Rufus Wainwright performs at the Elgin Theatre June 15 and 17.