Top critical review
Form over substance
on 12 June 2016
Overall, these boring 60 minutes do not exactly hold the distance and clearly this album should have been 10 minutes shorter.
The template of bloated, overlong and overproduced pop records that seem to have been the norm pre-financial crisis is for all to hear here, and it is a bit of a shame as Wainwright is clearly a real talent - but a lot of things are wrong.
The first thing to go wrong is the style of the album as a whole. By choosing uniformly mid- to low-tempo songs, Wainwright precipates the listener into some sort of sugar-coated musical environment where it is difficult to make up one track from the other. At the same time, any interesting melodic line is terminally swamped under an orchestrations which is more of a lability than an added-value.
Wainwright's voice has a beautiful tone with a very sexy medium, in particular. Unfortunately, the delivery is lazy, and Wainwright drawls more often than not, while the high notes can really be a shriek..The instrument is very nice but Rufus should work on his technique.
The big mistake also in my view (and here is the Pet Shop Boys fan speaking) is to have hired Neil Tenannt as exec producer on the album. At the time "Release the stars" is produced, Pet Shop Boys are in the middle of an artistic nadir and their Trevor Horn-produced album "Fundamental" is a bombastic affair that should have never been made in the first place. As "Release the stars" suspiciously sounds like "Fundamental" it seems that Tennant has passed the wrong vibes of his own PSB album to poor Rufus.
Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater though? Nah.
I can complain about über-orchestration, but "Do I disappoint you?", first track of the album, is an overwhelmingly colourful epic, with orchestral innovations exploding left right center with Tibetan long horn, flutes, choirs - a pure musical orgasm and it is great to have the orchestral version of this song as a bonus track.
I also really loved "Nobody's off the hook" a superb song for piano and string quartet, perfectly balanced and refined. The finale and also title song, "Release the stars", is also a very good finish but at that point it is a bit late. "Tiergarten" is also a very sweet ballad, a tribute to Wainwright's partner, this time delicately orchestrated. But as for the rest...
"Going to town" - the only single of the album that charted - would have been fine as the simple song it was to start with but it gets buried under the orchestra towards the end; "Between my legs" is a failed attempt at writing an anthem but again it disappears under the production value...the same could also be said of "Rules and regulation".
Until then, the album is quite "nice", some highs and lows but it is pleasant to listen to. But then as the second half starts, we are propelled in a tunnel of boredom with "Not ready to love" and "Slideshow", which are together 12 very long minutes of excruciatingly boring music - and not dissimilar in style to the "Luna Park" - "Numb" combo on PSB's "Fundamental" - which were the kiss of death for that album. The chord at the end of "Not ready" sounds like a John Williams effort in a Spielberg movie. Things do not get better with "Tulsa" or "Levaing for Paris #2".."Sanssouci" is a bit better but the flute is not use to the best effect here. We have said the good things we thought about the last track - but again by then our attention span has been exhausted.
Bottom line: "Release the stars" is typical of its time: 2006-2007, too much money floating around pop music, too little inspiration, too much production value, too much form over too little substance...