Gay Messiah

The audacity of Rufus Wainwright.

Rufus Wainwright's been a critical darling for so long that it's easy to forget the general audacity of his music, which he cobbles together from a panoply of pre-rock forms but plays with the wit and edge and world-weariness of a guy with things on his mind besides renewing his library card. Last year's Want One, a gorgeous tapestry of lush strings and rounded piano and burbling electronics, made it easier still, as Wainwright comfortably filled in our fantasy of Rufus the Sad, Smart, and Funny Gay Guy with perfect lines like, "My phone's on vibrate for you/Electroclash is karaoke too/ I tried to dance/Britney Spears/I guess I'm getting on in years."

On the new Want Two (Geffen), Wainwright finally gets around to providing the shock and awe his self-titled debut didn't inspire. The opening "Agnus Dei" is a breathy Latin prayer he folds confrontational Middle Eastern tonalities into; in "Gay Messiah," the singer insists, "I won't be the one baptized in cum"; "Memphis Skyline" is a Jeff Buckley eulogy in which Wainwright admits he "always hated him for the way he looked"; the nine-minute closer, "Old Whore's Diet," is a duet with Antony, the bald New York balladeer whose very existence seems like a righteous affront to straight America. Of course, the real scandal is how lovable Wainwright remains: For sad, smart, and funny, skip to "The Art Teacher," a solo-piano lullaby depicting the singer in "this uniformish pantsuit sort of thing."

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