When Rufus Wainwright announced that his next album would be produced by Mark Ronson, I can’t have been the only person to feel a little uneasy. For an artist as unique as Wainwright to hook up with a producer whose ‘retro horns’ has become so ubiquitous seemed a recipe for disaster. Happily, Out Of The Game is nothing of the sort and is the best work by both of them for some time.
Wainwright’s career has taken him in odd directions over the last decade, whether it’s recreating a Judy Garland concert, writing and putting on an opera or putting Shakespearean sonnets to music. So, while most of those worked perfectly well, it’s almost a relief to hear a new album from him that is pretty straightforward. Well, by his standards, anyway. And a lot of that comes from Ronson’s production.
Yeah, I know, everyone’s a bit sick of Mark Ronson aren’t they? I mean, how awful is that Olympic Coke advert that he’s in? And who wants to hear his version of God Put A Smile On My Face ever again? But if the death of Amy Winehouse last year reminded us of her talent, going back to listen to Back To Black proved how immaculate Ronson can be as a producer when he lets someone else be the star.
And on Out Of Game, that’s exactly what he does with Wainwright, not that he was ever likely to get the chance for it to be otherwise. Rufus had promised that this would be his ‘poppiest’ album, and it probably is, though it’s still not exactly in the ballpark of, say, Scissor Sisters. After all, it does end with a song dedicated to his late mother that finishes off with mournful bagpipes.
But more about those later. Title track and album opener Out Of The Game is a fantastic poppy song that showcases the best of both singer and producer, with Ronson’s understated 60s pop sheen adding a glorious technicolour backdrop for Wainwright to strut his stuff. It’s as catchy and fun as anything he’s ever done and is an instant favourite.
It would be wrong to say though that this is a pop album, because Wainwright isn’t the kind to do that, and tracks like Montauk (seemingly about his new baby daughter, the Wainwrights love singing to family members…) and the plaintive closer Candles are definitely not pop songs. Neither is the best track on the whole album, Song Of You, but Ronson’s production on it is sublime, possibly his best work since Back To Black (the song).
It sums up the album as a whole really, because what he does enhances Wainwright’s music, rather than overshadowing it. There are tracks on Out Of The Game where you can hear the horns of the Dap Kings, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Instead of being a Rufus Wainwright album that sounds like a Mark Ronson album, it’s a Rufus Wainwright album made better by the production talents of Mark Ronson, and that’s exactly how it should be.