Since his 1998 self-titled debut, Rufus Wainwright has indulged his love for lush, operatic pop, a passion that culminated on two-album suite Want One (2003) and Want Two (2004). He’s also the loudest and proudest major-label pop singer to have never been in the closet. But nothing was ballsier than his decision last year to re-create Judy Garland’s historic 1961 comeback performance at Carnegie Hall. To even suggest that the then-33-year-old Wainwright might come close to Garland’s stature ruffled a few feather boas (including, rumor has it, Liza Minnelli’s). Yet not only did Wainwright get raves for his Carnegie Hall performance, he then took it on the road. American Beauty director Sam Mendes shot a documentary about the experience that’s due later this year, as is a live album. Just before the Garland performance, Wainwright was also busy finishing his fifth album. Recorded in Berlin, Release The Stars (Geffen) is unusual for Wainwright in that it’s preoccupied with humility and reinvention—particularly that of a North American in Europe on tracks such as “Tiergarten” and “Leaving For Paris No. 2.” It’s not surprising that a Canadian living in New York City with a German boyfriend would find expatriatism such an attractive theme. But for such a timeless, romantic writer who has normally avoided political themes in his work, the decline of the American empire weighs heavily on Release The Stars. —Michael Barclay
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Maybe we shouldn’t have pressed Peter Buck to chat about R.E.M. or mentioned drinking on airplanes. He wanted to talk about Tuatara and how Barrett Martin and his merry men (Buck, Dean Wareham, Mark Eitzel, John Wesley Harding and others) turned their instrumental project from Ennio Morricone/Nino Rota-style world/lounge/jazz into something still eerily atmospheric but pop-worthy on East Of The Sun (Fast Horse).
You have gone from playing with Robyn Hitchcock to Tuatara to R.E.M. again. Do you compartmentalize things when you play or write?
No. I just write ’em and play ’em. I don’t think I know any other way of doing it. It doesn’t matter with who.
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Bryan Ferry is renowned for his slinky demeanor. Both as a solo artist and as the leader of art-rock avatars Roxy Music, the 62-year-old vocalist has made music with panache and fashion sense. Ferry recently reaffirmed his status as both style counselor (he has modeled men’s clothing for British department store Marks & Spencer) and glam icon (via a small role in last year’s Neil Jordan film Breakfast On Pluto).
Ferry is also pop music’s finest interpretive singer. Roxy Music’s only U.K. number-one hit arrived via a 1981 version of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” and Ferry has been covering other musicians’ catalogs since his 1973 solo debut, These Foolish Things, which tackled songs by the Stones, the Beatles, Smokey Robinson and others. Ferry’s silken, wiry baritone has only grown more scuffed and wearily emotive over the years, which is hard to imagine, as he’s long held the patent on smoke-ringed languor.
The brutally beautiful, impressively original Dylanesque (Capitol) is Ferry’s first single-composer covers album. You might assume Bob Dylan is too rustic for Ferry, who resides on a posh estate in rural Sussex, England. But the album’s rumba-like take on “Simple Twist Of Fate” and grizzled version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” are so unfussy you can’t help but think of Ferry’s cravat untied and his hair un-lacquered.
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Dating back to his days fronting Australian post-punk legends the Birthday Party, Nick Cave has always told it like it is. In the wake of their 1984 implosion, Cave has pumped out more than a dozen studio albums, a live set, a triple-disc rarities collection and, most recently, a CD/DVD package (concert/video set The Abattoir Blues Tour) with trusty band the Bad Seeds, essaying temptation, redemption and everything in between. The London-based Cave even ventured into screenwriting, penning the script for last year’s acclaimed Western The Proposition. But it’s the struggle to rise above the ugliness of modern life that preoccupies Cave on the debut from Grinderman, which finds him surrounded by Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos. Grinderman’s self-titled album (on Anti-) is as noisy and raw as anything Cave has done, with provocative songs such as “No Pussy Blues,” “Love Bomb” and “Electric Alice” demonstrating he’s lost none of his lyrical or musical edge. The always stylish Cave, who turns 50 in September, greets MAGNET in a New York City hotel suite overlooking the former World Trade Center site. His once-jet-black hair is now graying and thin, but it’s still combed high atop his head. Over several cups of English Breakfast tea and three hand-rolled cigarettes, Cave discusses the inspiration for his newest project, the joys of rocking out on guitar and the horror of his kids taking an interest in his music.
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Some bands seem to emerge overnight. Others, such as What Made Milwaukee Famous, take the better part of a weekend. In September 2005, the unsigned Austin, Texas, band was on tour, likely with the intention of escaping the maelstrom of hype and hangovers accompanying the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival. Instead, What Made Milwaukee Famous turned 15 minutes of television fame into a record deal with Barsuk, a reissue of its self-released debut and a 15-month flurry of dreamlike good fortune.
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Loveless isn’t simply My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazing masterpiece; the 1991 album is also the basis for one of alt-rock’s greatest yarns. It’s been reported that MBV leader Kevin Shields spent three years and a half-million dollars painstakingly piecing together Loveless in the studio, bankrupting the band’s label, Creation Records, in the process. On the 15th anniversary of the LP’s release, Shields tells MAGNET that things aren’t always as they seem.
The two things we’re really known for are spending Creation’s money and making records with loads of overdubs on them. The exact truth is this: About a month before we started Loveless, Creation pulled away from Rough Trade distribution and said, “Our contract is up with you. We don’t want to sign again.” By the time we resumed recording in September of ’89, Creation was already bankrupt.
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No regrets. For founding Clash singer/guitarist Mick Jones, it’s a good motto to live by. “We didn’t even have time to think about what we were doing,” he says. “The train was going 1,000 miles an hour before it crashed at the end.” The occasion for such reflection? The recent The Clash—The Singles (Epic/Legacy), a boxed set featuring all 19 of the band’s original a- and b-sides in replica sleeves (with numerous bonus tracks on the CD edition); the DVD release of the quartet’s ’78 flick Rude Boy (Epic Video/Legacy); not to mention Revolution Rock, a Clash-centered exhibition currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 51-year-old Jones, of course, has soldiered on since the Clash with successful follow-up Big Audio Dynamite and a production gig with the Libertines. His latest project is Carbon/Silicon, a collaboration with Tony James (Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik), who founded pre-Clash outfit the London SS with Jones in 1975. But Jones’ Clash profile haunts him to this day, he happily admits: “I never would’ve thought that the Clash would’ve carried on like it has. Thanks to all these re-releases, it’s gonna carry on to the next generation, and they seem interested.” Regrets? There might be a few, but Mick Jones certainly did it his way.
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Despite being the band’s sole proprietor since 1990, why would Evan Dando go back to being a Lemonhead? He released his first solo album in 2003 (the well-received Baby I’m Bored) and hasn’t used the Lemonheads name since 1996’s Car Button Cloth. Maybe he’s resurrecting the moniker because, deep down, he’ll always be a noisy pop/punk guy who’ll gather old hardcore buddies (J Mascis, Descendents Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez) to make an album for Vagrant called The Lemonheads that’s vicious and twitchy without lacking lyrical maturity.
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Once known as the anguished voice of emo pioneers Sunny Day Real Estate, Jeremy Enigk has done a lot of growing up in public. At 21 years of age, Enigk sacrificed Sunny Day—a band on the verge of a commercial breakthrough—in favor of Christianity, announcing his religious convictions in a 1994 e-mail to friends. Enigk later rejoined his bandmates in various configurations (both in the Fire Theft and a reunited Sunny Day, which split for good in 2000), and he issued an ornate, orchestral-pop solo album, Return Of The Frog Queen, in 1996. The new World Waits (the first release on Lewis Hollow Records, which Enigk started with manager Steve Smith) contains songs written over the past decade and revisits the grandeur of Frog Queen. Enigk creates a multi-tracked choir over transcendent swells of organ (“Been Here Before”), contemplates forgiveness while delicately strumming (“River To Sea”), then segues into a slick, nocturnal Billy Idol send-up (“City Tonight”). Enigk’s singing conveys a chilling world-weariness without emitting a single crack, each note thin, smooth and amazingly resilient—a far cry from his speaking voice when MAGNET caught up with him the morning after his 32nd birthday. Raspy but still energetic, Enigk “whooped it up a little bit” the night before, having spent his birthday at the house of longtime friend and bandmate William Goldsmith, barbecuing, enjoying champagne and chatting with friends.
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Whether playing Camper Van Beethoven’s lysergic brand of cheerfully insane indie rock or prying Cracker’s bourbon-stained mother lode from roots rock, David Lowery has always been an American storyteller. Cracker was twice anthologized in 2006: Once by its former label, Virgin, in the form of Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker; and the other courtesy of the band itself, which re-recorded its songs for Greatest Hits Redux. Cracker also has a new studio album, Greenland (Cooking Vinyl), which weaves gritty blues, country folk and even Indian raga into its dusty, grand design. Corey duBrowa caught up with Lowery to get his take on the group’s warring best-ofs.
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