A great deal of singer and songwriter Rufus Wainwright‘s recent work has been related to the Bard’s legacy. From composing for playwright and director Robert Wilson‘s Shakespeare’s Sonnets to performance arts to scoring the poet’s sonnets for a symphonic orchestra, Wainwright’s most recent album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, whose release comes exactly 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, pays homage to the timeless lyrical works of Shakespeare and makes them ring true to a modern audience.

‘Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets’ By Rufus Wainwright  Album Review

With the help of some all-star collaborators like long-time producer Marius de Vries, actors Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher and William Shatner, Austrian coloratura soprano Anna Prohaska and a pleasantly surprising appearance Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine, Wainwright has put together an album that is incredibly balanced while pushing the boundaries of conventional record-making.

Some of the tracks on the album are mere readings of the sonnets over a faint melodic line. This allows for the words to land quite directly, especially if you don’t know what the album is like conceptually. In fact, Wainwright’s vocals are as sparse as you can image for someone whose name is on the album cover. His integral role is rather in the conceptualizing, adapting and crafting of the record.

“A Woman’s Face” (Sonnet 20) deservedly gets two consecutive renditions – a spoken delivery by Frally Hynes and an operatic one, on which Prohaska lends her vocals. And as if the album didn’t already carry that message across, Wainwright himself delivers a pop version of the same sonnet towards the end. The sonnet’s thematic importance to the album marks the way in which this record is most relevant to our contemporary times. The subject of ambiguity in sexuality and gender identity, while central, is treated as an innately beautiful manifestation of humanity – something that should not be repressed or altered. The fact that this sonnet receives a sung interpretations by both a female and a male vocalist further relates the strife for inclusiveness, and this is what makes Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets a truly remarkable and momentous piece of contemporary music.

“Unperfect Actor” (Sonnet 23) is perhaps the most remarkable endeavor musically. Featuring actress Helena Bonham Carter, musician Fiora Cutler and Wainwright’s sister Martha Wainwright, the song unfolds into an epic rhapsody with the grandeur and theatricality of an A-list rock opera. Wainwright’s project has not lack of variety. The Florence Welch track “When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes” (Sonnet 29) is elevating and musically intriguing in a completely different way from “Unperfect Actor.” With a more subdued sound than even what we are used to hearing from Florence + the Machine, the track is driven primarily by Welch’s ethereal vocals rather than an overwhelming accompaniment. Both songs, however, reveal the singer/songwriter’s incredible ability to bring out the most suitable emotional and musical charge for each track.

Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets is playful and clever. It places the listener in the sweet spot between spoken words and music, vacillating between the two but also deliberately exploring what each has to offer.

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