A great show-off comes of age

<strong>Release the Stars</strong>

Rufus Wainwright <em>Geffen</em>

"Why does it always have to be fire?/Why does it always have to be brimstone?" sings Rufus Wainwright on "Do I Disappoint You", the opening track of the Canadian-American songwriter's first comprehensive assault on the mainstream. If it is always high drama round Rufus's way, that is because he encourages it, packing both his life and his music with unabashed pomp and theatrical flourishes.

Currently composing an opera for the New York Met, the 33-year-old also recently performed an acclaimed tribute show to the gay icon Judy Garland. He has appeared on his album sleeves dressed as a pre-Raphaelite maiden, and now here he is in hilariously camp monogrammed lederhosen. The over-egging of puddings rarely ceases.

Packed with rampaging orchestras and multilayered vocal acrobatics, much of Release the Stars is so over the top, it makes Liberace look like Mondeo Man. As well as that almost preposterously climactic opener, there is "Tulsa", an uproarious show tune about a night out with the Killers singer Brandon Flowers, and "Slideshow", which deceptively begins as a touching ballad before swelling to huge, horn-packed proportions in the chorus.

Unlike on his first four albums, Wainwright never forgets the tunes this time. "Between My Legs" transcends its slightly seedy subject matter with a soaring, pure pop chorus, while "Sanssouci" is a shimmering waltz that would be pretty even without all the instrumental adornment. Melody is at the heart of these 12 tracks, perhaps thanks to the experienced ear of the executive producer, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. More likely, though, it seems that one of music's greatest show-offs has finally worked out how to find a much bigger audience.

This article first appeared in the 28 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: The jailed state