The danger of an artist issuing a universally praised debut is that the follow-up is inevitably a let-down.

The danger of an artist issuing a universally praised debut is that the follow-up is inevitably a let-down. Or is it? Three years after leaving critics breathless with his eponymous first set, Wainwright returns with Poses, an album that tops his previous effort and firmly positions him for much-deserved pop stardom. Flexing a smooth, soulful voice that recalls a young Elton John, the artist offers material that is often startlingly dark and unusually accessible at the same time. The title tune, for example, is an unflinching, brutally frank tale of an innocent young man's descent into life-altering decadence, wrapped in a sweet pop melody. Elsewhere, the artist dabbles in more mainstream ideas, like enlisting Alex Gifford of the electronic duo Propellerheads to collaborate on the funk-fortified "Shadows," a future hit that is marked by its blend of insinuating drum loops and jittery electric guitars. Overall, Poses is essential for popsters with adventurous souls and a hunger for words that go deeper than "ooh baby, baby."—LF

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