Someone called Wainwtright’s voice a “rich kid voice” and I laughed when I read it. Even though I’m Canadian and have been exposed to Wainwright more than most Americans or Brits, I still have a hard time dealing with his affect. As I wrote in my review of his first album, it’s hard to imagine he just sings this way. It’s hard to imagine he didn’t do it on purpose. And it’s taken me a long time to care less about it. If you can get over Wainwright’s affect, you’ll find a pretty good songwriter who deliberately went away from many of the singer-songwriter trends of his era. But if you can’t get over the affect, I’m not sure there’s anything you can do.
I don’t really like pedigree but it feels pretty hard to ignore in Wainwright’s case. It does feel kind of obvious, in hindsight, that someone with the parents he had would turn into a good songwriter. And I think this record is additional proof of that. He’s not really my type of songwriter, but I can’t ignore that he is good at what he does. He has a good enough sense of melody and his lyrical perspective is distinct (and certainly his lyrics are decent enough).
Wainwright is a good singer, despite his affect. He’s a little like Bob Dylan in the sense that some people just hate his voice and can’t get over it, and it does appear that Wainwright could choose to sing differently if he wanted to, as Dylan once did. The only thing I can say is that he at least sounds like nobody else. And now that I’m used to it, I don’t care any more. (Though I have a jhigh tolerance for unconventional singers when they write good songs.)
The music is full on chamber pop and he really leans into it. That bothers some people, to judge by the reviews on Rate Your Music, but I don’t really get that. If you’re going to go this direction, shouldn’t you lean into it. I sort of feel like the chamber pop thing supports his voice. It’s hard for me to imagine Wainwright without on this another musical adornment. Like imagine this album with just playing piano or guitar with nothing else. Would it work? I don’t know. (Like imagine if the whole thing sounded like the opening of the title track!)
The record is produced well, it sounds absolutely great 20 years later. I have no complaints there.
Wainwright isn’t for everyone, and I really do get that. But if you’re willing to get over his voice I do think you’ll find a decent set of songs with some reasonably creative arrangements.