Rufus Wainwright: Steven Dewall / Retna

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September 26, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

Wainwright’s third CD is a gorgeous meditation on emotional displacement, on finding yourself adrift when you want to love and be loved. It’s a three-hankie weepie, for sure, floating along on a velvet cushion of strings and sensual, bruised vocals. His clever, gently ironic wordplay (”my phone’s on vibrate for you,” for example) allows the sentiment to get over; in less gifted hands, this material would just be mawkish muck. If Sondheim had been reared on old Van Dyke Parks records, he might sound like this.

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