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Rufus Wainwright, ‘Release the Stars’ (Geffen)

The last time Rufus Wainwright walked into a recording studio, it was with a 50-piece orchestra and enough hooks for a pretty great EP. Unfortunately, he left with a double album’s worth of material (released in two parts as the critically tolerated Want series, from 2003 and 2004). Here, the multitude of musicians is back, but the songs are actually strong enough to hold the weight of the over-the-top arrangements. Self-producing for the first time, Wainwright leans toward ornate, Nilsson Schmilsson-y chamber pop. The excellent title track is the best (possibly) Tom Cruise-inspired torch ballad you’ll hear in 2007.