Canadian crooner Rufus Wainwright is back with his sixth studio album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, which finds him stripping down his sound to the bare essentials—just a piano and those distinctive vocals—on a collection of achingly beautiful songs that he wrote during his mother’s three-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.
According to the famously grandiose Rufus, recording this deeply emotional album with such sparse accompaniment was one of the most difficult things he’s ever done. “After hiding behind a 70-piece orchestra with my opera you can blame everything on the tuba player,” he says with his signature humor. “With this album, when the curtain is raised it’s me on my own. There’s nothing more powerful in Western culture, in my opinion, than a voice with a piano or a voice with a guitar.”
In true highbrow fashion, Rufus set three Shakespeare sonnets to music on the new album—joking, “I’m privileged to have such a quiet, cheap, and brilliant collaborator as William Shakespeare.”—and even included the final aria from the opera he penned, Prima Donna.
There’s an ode to his beloved New York City entitled Who Are You New York? and a song dedicated to one of his high school sweethearts called Zebulon, while on Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now, Rufus blasts a British critic for panning his opera, without losing his sense of humor, singing, “I would never wish death upon you, your cats and your throw cushions on Christmas.” He maintains that it was the critic’s right to dislike the opera, but that she went out of her way to write a scathing review so it would get picked up by other outlets, which it did.
And, of course, the album features the moving ballads Rufus has become known for, filled with romantic despair, which he arguably conveys like no other since Leonard Cohen. “I want to offer some kind of emotional safe place where people can feel free to be unhappy and sensitive and imperfect,” Rufus said of his work recently.
The Songs for Lulu tour comes to the U.S. this summer and the shows will feature Rufus alone with his piano, replicating the highly personal feel of the album. “It’s an opportunity to have this slight moment of intimacy with me, which I know everybody wants,” he says with a laugh.