Daily Song Study

Rufus Wainwright – Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

In songs on June 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

This song draws from an older musical aesthetic, but the lyrics are completely modern.

His litany of vices starts innocently enough, then descends gradually until we’re at “those other things/which for several reasons we won’t mention…” From there the introspection opens up more broadly, all the while retaining a sense of self-deprecating humor that offers no apologies.

It’s an excellent updating of style with new substance.

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  1. Like the cabaret feel. By the middle of the song i kind of nod out a bit though. I lose the lyrics and there’s something in the wash of sound around his groove that doesn’t quite catch me.

  2. I confess that his voice has a hypnotic effect on me, so I generally follow him all the way through. The oddball lyrics help.

  3. Still, it’s a little bit later and i still have the song bouncing around my head, so that’s a good sign. Maybe it grows on you after repeated listenings.

  4. I listened to this album many a morning on frozen and then thawed Brooklyn sidewalks and hour-long train rides to work, so it’s got some sentimental value for me.

    What I really like about this song (which is usually why I like any song) is not the lyrics but the music. I do like good lyrics, but as a former instrumental musician, it’s just not what I usually pay attention to.

    I agree with paulms about the cabaret feel. The song starts with a nice Rhodes piano doing its best understated, at-ease rhythms and slight dissonance that signals a lack of pretense and perhaps the beginning of a pompous showtune. Neither of those promises are kept, but at least you know the song doesn’t take itself too seriously—though you’ll probably take that thought back later.

    The lyrical line, like in many showtunes, doesn’t stay confined to a major fifth or so, like so much of manufactured pop, and both the leaping intervals and expanded range really show off Rufus’s vocal talent, though the ease with which he pulls it off and unaffected way he sings it may fool you. I really like the accuracy of his vocal line coupled with his genuine, seemingly untrained vocal style.

    I also really like the liberties the song takes with key, switching back and forth between major and minor to great effect on the mood—what might otherwise be a bit schizophrenic if it weren’t for the ease it takes in transition. It does feel, though, like the minor phrases are trying both to have a straight pop rhythm *and* break out into a samba, which actually does seem schizophrenic.

    Even though the song is full of hints of tongues in cheeks, the song doesn’t waste much time getting to the pretense, if not the pomposity you might expect from a showtune. The simple instrumentation at the beginning quickly overreaches and culminates in an overly-composed instrumental section that leaves my eyes rolling every time. After a piano, drum kit, and full string section have entered, I think it’s the oboe (and is that a banjo?) that finally drives it off the cliff into the Ravine of the Ridiculous.

    I really like the whole album, though, so I kind of give this song a bit of a pass.

  5. I do love that Ravine.

  6. No matter how ridiculous the subject of the song, the music’s quality must never be laughable.

  7. Also, Wainwright is undeniably *sexy* on this album. Even when I know he prefers blokes, that slooow world-weary drawl and suggestion of debauchery is just…hot.

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