Album Reviews

Martha Wainwright – Martha Wainwright

(Drowned In Sound) UK release date: 4 April 2005


Having a famous name is often no guarantee of quality. Remember Bob Dylan‘s son, Jacob? Exactly. Sean Lennon has also tried following in his father’s footsteps, while Kelly Osborne apparently still believes that she has a successful musical career ahead of her.

The Wainwright family are rather different however. We already know all about Rufus, the flamboyantly brilliant songwriter recently behind the Want One and Want Two opuses. Yet it turns out there was another quieter, yet equally talented offspring of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle.

Martha Wainwright doesn’t really sit easily with the rest of the cosy, Radio Two endorsed women with guitars, such as Katie Melua. Her niche is closer to edgier songwriters, such as Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos (especially on the outstanding These Flowers) and Mary Margaret O’Hara – and besides, you’re not particularly likely to find Terry Wogan or Ken Bruce playing a song entitled Bloody Mother F*cking Asshole are you?

That track in particular is what really brought Wainwright to everyone’s attention and is thankfully included here. Apparently dedicated to her father at some of her shows (which should give some kind of idea about the lyrical issues on display on this album), it’s an emotional, quiet folk-ish song with an arresting first line (“poetry has no place for a heart that’s a whore”). The repeat of the title towards the end of the song isn’t done for shock – although it’s a bit unusual to hear biting lyrics such as these in such a stripped down track – instead it conveys Wainwright’s bitterness and frustration perfectly.

BMFA (as it’s known in other, more refined, quarters) isn’t the only gem here. Factory is a lovely, lilting song describing her own unease at a trendy party (“these are not my people, I should not have come here”) while brother Rufus and mother Kate show up for Don’t Forget, a quite beautiful song of yearning and longing (“in my silly mind I’ve gotten married to you, you’re across town, don’t even have a clue”).

It’s not all quiet folk though – Ball And Chain flat out rocks, with yet more superb lyrics about insecurity and jealousy (“her tits were higher than mine…I heard she could read and write too, and she’s getting a degree in f*cking you”) and Wainwright’s vocal is wonderful, reminiscent of Kristin Hersh at her more accessible.

Although there isn’t a bad track on here, the stand out song is certainly TV Show (oddly renamed from the original The Oprah Song). A jazzy, folk number, which is enhanced by the addition of some subtle strings, its lyrics appear to be self-analysing Wainwright’s emotional problems (“I laugh a lot, but that’s just a plot, I’ve found the way to make ’em not stay”) before laying the blame on America’s most famous talk show host – “it was Oprah…on the TV show..she told me so”.

For a debut album, this is a staggering achievement and marks Martha Wainwright as a lot more than just a famous surname. She’s totally different to her brother but his fans will find much to enjoy here – as indeed will anyone who appreciates terrifically crafted music with just the right amount of pain, humour and emotional honesty. One of the albums of the year, for sure.


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The Wainwright Sisters – Songs In The Dark
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