Rufus Wainwright has always been a defiantly odd artist. In between writing of debauchery over sweet baroque pop arrangements, Wainwright has written for numerous soundtracks, and even composed an opera, so his decision to set Shakespeare’s sonnets to music doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. The album’s guest roster is in the spirit of the project’s essential quirkiness, as it ranges from opera singer Anna Prohaska, to William Shatner. Take All My Loves sounds largely as one would expect it to, and that’s both its greatest asset, and biggest flaw.
The majority of the tracks on Take All My Loves take the form of a particular sonnet, sung over baroque orchestration in an operatic style. This style is most interestingly used on the opening two tracks, both of which feature Sonnet 43. The opener sees the sonnet as a spoken piece, over bubbling electronics, whereas When Most I Wink is the same words, but presented in the form of Anna Prohaska’s stunning singing, with elaborate string backing. The former is tense and minimalist, whilst the latter is sweeping and emotional. The contrast shows the potential this project has, although the rest of the tracklist can’t quite live up to the introduction.
There are several other tracks recorded in the same style as When Most I Wink, which unfortunately feel somewhat superfluous. A Woman’s Face and For Shame are both largely forgettable, failing to do anything with the material besides giving it a pretty backing. The album becomes more interesting when it steps out of its standard style, such as on Unperfect Actor, which is composed in a stirring post-rock style, with pounding drums and noisy guitars taking the place of an orchestra. Martha Wainwright’s guest vocals complement her brother’s elegantly, the song is a much needed adrenaline hit in a largely sedate record. When is Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes is also very strong, as Florence Welch turns down her usual histrionics during her vocal performance. She sounds at home over the folksy instrumental, and sings one of the album’s strongest melodies.
Whilst Take All My Loves sounds very interesting on paper, it ultimately adds up to less than the sum of its parts. Every vocal performance, and every instrumental is produced to perfection, but the album lacks the soul of Shakespeare’s original material, largely content to simply perform the sonnets over sweeping orchestration. It suffers from the same core problem that remakes of classic films, or cover albums do, in that whilst it may be entertaining in its own right, it can’t escape feeling pointless.