On "All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu" (Decca), Rufus Wainwright strips away the lush, piano-pop construction of his previous albums until all that's left is his gorgeous voice, his emotional piano playing and his grief.
The illness and death in January of Wainwright's mother, Kate McGarrigle, influences much of the album, either explicitly - as in "Martha," which chronicles a phone call with his sister, the singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright - or in tone, as in "Zebulon," about the drowning death of a classmate.
Though at times Wainwright's pain is almost palpable, he succeeds in turning it into something more universal. "So Sad With What I Have" is downbeat but also stunningly pretty, adding a fresh coat of pain to the yearning of Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue." With "The Dream," he adorns the album's poppiest melody with classical finery, celebrating the mixed emotions of having a loved one's suffering end when they die, while still missing them. "I am left behind," Wainwright sings, with a touch of anger, "corrupted, crushed and blind."
The playful "Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now" and the tender "What Would I Ever Do With a Rose?" do lighten the mood a bit on "All Days Are Nights." However, when a songwriter as skilled as Wainwright is struck by an inspiration so strong, it seems best to simply tag along for the magnificent ride.
"All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu"
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE Deceptively simple music about grief's complexities