When I first came across this beautiful rendition of this Lennon-penned Beatles classic, it was on the soundtrack album for the film I Am Sam back in 2002. The album of cover versions of Beatles songs featured a host of artists interpreting their favourite tracks. Sacrilage to some people I know!! But the album was actually very good indeed. Aimee Mann and Michael Penn’s version of Two Of Us, Eddie Vedder’s crooning You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, and Sarah McLachlan’s soulful Blackbird are particular highlights. But the standout track on the album for me was the stunning version of Across The Universe by Rufus Wainwright.
I was unfamiliar with Wainwright at that point, but this version made me sit up and take notice. Classic in its approach, and beautifully executed, Wainwright’s effortlessly seductive voice brings out the heart of this song and sends it skywards. His vocals soar above the music, given extra depth with added instrumentation and harmony vocals, yet stays true to the originals endearing charm. The distortion that shrouded Lennon’s original rendition is stripped away, and the songs lyrics become more accessible through Wainwright’s confident delivery.
It encouraged me to investigate Rufus further and I bought his self titled debut and his recently released ‘Poses’ album. I had imagined him to be mainly an acoustic singer-songwriter, but these albums revealed him to be a grandiose pop maestro, with wonderfully crafted, romantic songs, telling stories with dashes of experimentation, and a keen ear for melody.
A few years later his ‘Want One’ record was released to great critical acclaim, and showed his sonic canvass widen, with bigger arrangements for his orchestrated pop songs. He was also able to show great restraint with some very tender moments that wove their way through the album. He was on top of his game, as another album called ‘Want Two’ was released only a few months later, which proved Wainwright was overflowing with creative ideas for musical arrangements and story-telling. All this after battling a dangerous drug addiction and his self confessed ‘Lost Years’ since the ‘Poses’ album.
Luckily, he is an artist who is still on the ascendency who, in the years since, has steadily built a reputation as a fine songwriter and showman, and his back catalogue is a treasure trove of pop gems well worth investigating. But this song was where it started for me, and is a brilliant introduction to a truly gifted musician.