Release Date: Nov 11, 2016
Record label: PIAS
In many people’s minds, Martha Wainwright remains the confessional singer-songwriter who castigated her folk icon dad on her eponymous debut. But she’s tried plenty of other musical personas since, and her sixth studio album shows her versatility at its best, its songs not so much genre experiments as joyful costume changes. Wainwright moonlights variously as folksy singer-songwriter (Traveller), jazz crooner (Before the Children Came Along) and electropop chanteuse (Look Into My Eyes), and remains a deft interpreter of other people’s songs.
You could never accuse the Wainwrights of being shy about their family difficulties. Rufus Wainwright‘s Dinner At Eight, Loudon Wainwright III‘s Hitting You, and of course Martha Wainwright‘s own delightfully titled paean to her father, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole have all been so intensely personal that it’s sometimes felt like the listener is sitting in on a huge therapy session. Martha Wainwright’s last album, Come Home To Mama, continued the tradition by writing songs so bleak about her marriage that husband Brad Albetta wore a full monks outfit and black face mask throughout the tour to promote the album.
The last time we heard from Martha Wainwright — okay, the last time we got a solo album from her — was 2012's Come Home to Mama, a record that was partly in response to losing her mother, Kate McGarrigle, in early 2010, right after becoming a mother herself (her son Arcangelo was born in 2009). Since then, she's had another child (Francis Valentine) and made a record with her sister Lucy Wainwright Roche (last year's creepy lullabies album, Songs In The Dark).Goodnight City feels lighter. With Wainwright busy with two kids at home, Wainwright and co-producer Thomas Bartlett opted for an album split roughly down the middle, half originals and half covers by or co-writes written with friends who had Wainwright in mind.
Martha Wainwright’s first three albums run the gamut from intense confessionals and tasteful torch songs to electropop. Here, she paints from an even wider musical palette on a single album, experimenting with everything from lush, synth-and-saxophone pop to Patti Smith-type punk. Unusually, half the songs are penned by (or are collaborations with) friends and relatives, but Wainwright treats every one as if it were her own.
Of all the things that have come to characterise Martha Wainwright’s career, stylistic consistency is not one of them. Her debut EP, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, dealt in the intensely personal and the viscerally emotional, but when she followed it up with a self-titled full-length in 2005, things were poppier, airier and palpably more mellow. It was her second LP three years later that felt like the point at which she’d properly matured, setting the wit and insight of her earlier work against lusher production and sharper arrangements.
Every Wainwright family member, Martha included, has a flair for the dramatic, a commitment to emotional exploration that remains unconcerned and even completely detached from musical norms. Martha's fourth album, Goodnight City, flits from English to French, intimate to raucous, theatrical to confessional—sometimes within the same composition. No worry, however, since her confident vocal weaves such disparate tales together even as she makes her interests our own.
It's been six years since the death of Kate McGarrigle, influential folk singer and Martha Wainwright’s mother. Her debut EP, Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, was about her father, Loudon Wainwright III, and how he neglected his family. In a 2010 interview, Martha told the Telegraph that her “childhood revolved around her brother.” For much of her professional career, Martha Wainwright has danced around the dominating figures of folk music’s most illustrious family.
There have long been two sides to Martha Wainwright’s musicality: the singer-songwriter of her own distinction and the master interpreter of song. In the four years since her last solo effort, she’s seemingly emphasized the latter, playing the standards as a lounge singer in the Emmy-winning Olive Kitteridge; covering the work of Canadian songwriters (even translating her own) for the TV series Trauma; and releasing an album of family lullabies and folk covers with sister Lucy Wainwright Roche. Her latest, Goodnight City, merges these two sides, with inspired performances of both her own new work and contributions by writers as diverse as author Michael Ondaatje and Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus.