Martha Wainwright has always been a songwriter who wears her heart on her sleeve – she did after all, famously write a song about her father called Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole. It’s no surprise then that she breaks her five year hiatus as a recording artist with an album that addresses her recent divorce head on.
For it’s fair to say that the last five years have been a time of momentous change for Wainwright. As well as a bruising divorce from fellow musician Brad Albetta (and subsequent bitter custody battle), she’s also opened a cafe and cultural space in her native Montreal. It’s a state of flux that has inevitably meant that her song writing’s been put on the back burner, but there’s an almost cathartic rush to Love Will Be Reborn – almost as if Wainwright is sensing a chance to put some of her demons to rest.
Her fifth album also signals a back to basics approach, having written all the songs contained within it on her own. Her previous record, Goodnight City, was heavy on the collaborations (with artists such as Tune-Yards‘ Merrill Garbus and Beth Orton) but the songs on Love Will Be Reborn are solely Wainwright’s work – which, given the very personal nature of many of the songs contained within it, would make sense.
Opening track Middle Of The Lake sets the scene perfectly – Wainwright self-deprecatingly singing about her “little songs of love and pain” before asking “rock and roll, can you save your life?”. As ever, it’s Wainwright’s extraordinary vocals that are the focus point – one minute, a low growly drawl, the next performing all manner of vocal acrobats as the song meanders along.
Many of the songs sound like open letters directed at her former husband, full of the trademark Wainwright sardonic wit. Being Right is built upon a tremulous guitar line and sees Wainwright becoming increasingly intense in her vocals – “I’m one breath away from killing you” she wails at one point – while Report Card is probably the most devastatingly raw track. It sees Wainwright alone in an empty house, swigging gin and missing her children: “We’re born and we die alone, but until then I want you home.”
It’s not all a parade of misery thought – the title track opens with a line of “I cried only one tear for us today, and I will wipe it away before the day breaks”, and as the name of the song implies, there’s an optimistic, determined resolve to rebuild her life. The most upbeat track on the album, Hole In My Heart, is a celebration of new love, set to one of Wainwright’s most irresistibly catchy melodies.
Musically, there are no great departures from Wainwright’s previous work – so fans of that slightly spacey folk-rock she’s made her own in recent years won’t be disappointed. Even when the melodies aren’t that strong, as with Justice, it’s her vocals that never fail to hold the attention. The closing Falaise de Malaise may be partly sung in French, but Wainwright imbues each line with such emotion it’s impossible not to be affected by it.
It may be an album that’s been borne out of darkness, but as another Canadian wordsmith once sang, there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. There are plenty of cracks here – the joyous bounce of Sometimes, or the calm optimism of the title track – to show that Wainwright herself may have been reborn from the personal trauma of the last few years.