Never underestimate the power of a good title. Whereas lesser artists may opt for puns (away with you, Billy Corgan and your Mellon Collie), innuendo (go stand in the corner and play with your Chocolate Starfish, Limp Bizkit) or even the name of the studio where the album was recorded (we’re looking at you, Kooks…), the younger Wainwright sibling knows just how to tempt you into her world.
I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too perfectly sums up Martha Wainwright’s second album – mischievous, poignant, desperately sad but with a rueful, optimistic glow. And let’s face it, you can’t say that about an album entitled Konk now, can you?
Three years ago, Wainwright produced that rarest of things – a near flawless debut album. Light years away from the flamboyant opulence of her brother Rufus‘ work, this was wistful pop/folk more of the mould of her mother Kate McGarrigle. She may not command as many column inches as her brother, but she’s already proved to be more than a match for him in songwriting terms.
For her second album, Wainwright’s taken all that was good about that debut and added a sure-footed commercial touch, without losing that angry edge which has always made her so compelling. There may not be many songs here with the radio unfriendly title of Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, but don’t expect an easy listen.
Wainwright may have got married recently, but the lyrics here don’t reflect emotional stability and romantic wellbeing. Bleeding All Over You is a gorgeously bittersweet paean to a former, now unattainable, lover, Jimi just oozes insecurity and self-loathing and, perhaps most harrowing of all, her mother’s recent battle with cancer is detailed on In The Middle Of The Night (on which, if you listen carefully, you can hear Rufus hollering away in the background).
The melodies though add some much needed light to this lyrical shade. You Cheated Me is the closest thing that Wainwright’s come to writing a flat-out pop song, and she succeeds admirably. The chorus will be bouncing around your head for days, and the mood of melancholy yet defiant hope recalls The Pretenders at their best. Similarly, the soaring Coming Tonight already sounds like a radio staple – if either of these two tracks were released as singles, they’d make Wainwright a household name.
Yet, as ever with Martha, it’s the darker moments that prove most interesting. Tower puts imagery that brings to mind the Iraq War and September 11 (“the soldiers are all on fire…the sky is filled with death”) and marries them to a haunting, woozy string-soaked cabaret song. The fact that Martha swoops and soars like Kate Bush at her finest makes the song that more stunning.
As ever, her lyrics are beautifully written. Bleeding All Over You concerns an ex-lover who has “moved up north and got a farmhouse” and now has “cowshit in your brain and love in your heart”. It’s also home to that album title. Perhaps the highlight though is the aforementioned In The Middle Of The Night, images of knocking on the door and limousines outside (“and I know who it’s for”) beautifully conjuring up notions of mortality and the loss of loved ones.
There’s also the ‘sad but happy’ reminisces of So Many Friends where Wainwright laments that “I have lost so many friends…I have gained so many memories”, and the spine-tingling love song to her husband (Brad Albetta, who produced the album), Niger River. In the middle of all this, a surprising rendition of Pink Floyd‘s See Emily Play seems a bit superfluous, but it makes for some nice light relief.
Any quibbles are minor ones – some people may miss the intimate, fragile touch of her debut album and could find the more overtly commercial moments here a bit jarring. Yet by the time the final notes of the acoustic closer I Wish I Were Here have faded away, then you’re more than convinced that this is yet another triumph for the Wainwright family.