Canadian-American singer-songwriter and all-around hyphenated artist Martha Wainwright’s third studio album, Come Home To Mama, drops and soars emotionally. Here’s an artist who can write.
The full-length mostly follows a theme: pain of a heartily tangled, fading relationship. Married for five years and mother to a toddler, one may deduce that she’s writing from a perspective other than her own. But if you didn’t know any differently (thanks, Wikipedia), there’d be no hint otherwise.
Wainwright has a lovely history of being blunt. “Can You Believe It” starts with the saucy, frank, “I really like the make-up sex/ It’s the only kind I ever get.” Although I cannot relate, I appreciate her nod to the illogical rage she lets seep toward her partner. “As I get angrier, I get older/ I have fewer and fewer to complain to/ So I built a ship of shit and directed at you.” And her confession of desperation: “I’ll show you my heart if you show me the time.” It’s a hormonal dependency, an addiction. “I love you, baby / I don’t know why/ It’s the chemicals I see in your eyes/ Now when you touch me I feel kinda numb/ I need yah like a baby needs to suck its thumb.” Like I said, the woman’s got mad writing chops.
The Internet flipped itself inside out with enthusiasm over “Proserpina,” the album’s first single and the last song ever penned by Wainwright’s musician mother, Kate McGarrigle. It chills when paired with that knowledge, frosting over with dark piano and recounting the Ancient Roman story. It speaks from Ceres’ (Proserpina’s mama) point-of-view and if you, like me, ain’t super familiar with mythology, I’ll quickly explain what the hell is going on: This tale is the cartoonish (“Ancient Roman”) explanation of the seasons. Basically this bad guy from the underworld (Pluto) captures Proserpina (hot babe and daughter of the agricultural queen/goddess Ceres) and drags her down to his fiery, crapola apartment in Hell. She may or may not have eaten some pomegranate seeds (lame choice for diet cheating, Pros) so she has to chill with Pluto a few months of every year as punishment, thus somehow creating winter. Every year. Don’t get stuck on the details, basically (also, don’t trip over the fact that one lyric calls for a return to Hera and although that name when spoken aloud immediately makes me think of Atlantic City, I’m pretty sure that’s a Greek goddess and has no place in this Roman mythology story thing). Wainwright’s late mother wrote this song and it’s from a mother’s perspective about her daughter sung by the writer’s daughter and all that together, combined, make this track really beautiful and worthy of downright erect goosebumps. It also inspired the record’s title. It’s an important one, so don’t skip it during your listen.
At the end of Come Home To Mama, I find myself most appreciative of Wainwright’s confessional style of writing, how she reveals her main characters’ flaws without shame. She carries the Wainwright musical torch on, keeping the flame blazing.