Reinvention takes on many forms and in some cases, is seemingly unintentional. In the case of Rufus Wainwright it may well be the latter as he hangs up his folk roots and dons his composer hat instead. This LP is a part of his side project: the rather gargantuan task of choosing a small number of the illustrious playwright, William Shakespeare’s sonnets to set to music. Narrowing it down from 154 to 9 cannot have been easy, but his choices and the addition of his musical genius and guest contributors has produced something utterly sublime.
Not really knowing what to expect, my first impressions of the album were that of surprise above all. Moreover because the lion’s share of the tracks are classical and operatic, and each sonnet is recited as well as sung. Interspersed with Wainwright’s own sumptuous tones are recitative cameos from William Shatner, Carrie Fisher and Helena Bonham-Carter as well as Florence Welch lending her distinctive vocals to When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes – Sonnet 29. While the backing to the latter still reminds me of some of my son’s nursery rhyme CDs, this simple backing allows Welch’s vocals to flourish way short of the usual approach of singing at the top of her lungs she takes on her albums with Florence &The Machine.
The LP is broken into 3rds by less classical tracks keeping things interesting with rocky serenade, the excellent Unperfect Actor – Sonnet 23 being the first and Welch’s contribution the second. The remainder is very operatic and while I do not profess to be a fan of opera, this approach not only suits the sonnets well, the choice of vocalists is utterly spot on. Even taking the likes of Sonnet 66 and 87 in the German translation works superbly carrying the emotion through and by the end of Farewell – Sonnet 87, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing and on the verge of an ovation with Anna Prohaska’s soprano.
This collection forms an album in the truest sense. The pace is well thought out, the tracks compliment each other perfectly and ends on an emotional high that leaves my finger poised over the play button ready to go again. It’s not folk, but Rufus Wainwright, you have surpassed yourself with this one. Even if it’s not your usual cup of tea, please take a listen as it wasn’t mine either, now Take All My Loves:9 Shakespeare Sonnets, is my album of 2016 thus far.