Martha Wainwright – Come Home To Mama (V2 Records/ October 15 2012)
By Samuel Spencer
Surprisingly for an album that begins with a song titled ‘I Am Sorry’, this is an unapologetic set of songs from the youngest of the Wainwright/McGarrigle troupe. Although the opening beeps suggest the singer has ‘gone electronic’, before you cry Judas and cut through the power cables, rest assured that there is much to please both old and new fans ofMartha Wainwright.
Although some of her electronic elements are admittedly rather off-putting (with the opening of ‘Four Black Sheep’ for example sounding like an outtake from a Super Mario soundtrack), the occasional electric touches for the mostly serve to add to the rich palette of this album. In the opening four songs alone we go from the autobiographical (the almost alternative rock ‘I Am Sorry’ and the brass band backed ‘Can You Believe It’) to lead single ‘Proserpina’, a haunting piano and string lament in which Wainwright takes on the role of Demeter, mother of the occasional Queen of the Greek Underworld, as well as the role of her own mother, who sang the song originally.
Although this all may sound like the makings of a rather confused album, Wainwright has somehow managed to bring these disparate elements together. This is in some part due to the production of Yuka Honda, who has managed to soften the edges of both her angsty earlier work and the jazz-pop of her last album into a more streamlined set of songs. In fact, there is much in this album that suggests this is Wainwright not ‘going electric’ but ‘going commercial’. However, this is not chart pop in the modern Guetta-strewn wasteland sense of the word, but a sort of modern updating of the 1970s, combining her usual comparisons – Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell especially – with the heavy influence of Stevie Nicks; for me, this album is Wainwright’s ‘Rooms on Fire’ or ‘Edge of Seventeen’. This works at its best when it combines Wainwright’s unique musical stylings and solipsistic lyrics, but at its worst it becomes a sort of camp quasi-disco, as in ‘I Wanna Make An Arrest’, which at times recalls Barbara Streisand’s ‘No More Tears (Enough is Enough)’ far more than a song by a singer who performed a song called ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’ should.
For the most part however, the album is an excellent cohesion of Wainwright’s previous work, and is both beautiful and surprising in equal measure – an album you won’t be sorry to listen to.