Wainwright has said "This record is a culmination of my life experiences so far. Everything changed for me a couple years ago and this record is a representation of that and a return to the reason I started writing songs." The album hints at all sorts of upheavals, births, deaths, arguments and infidelities.
"I am sorry I yelled at you" is how the album begins, and it's clear that from the off this is going to be a turbulent experience. 'I Am Sorry' continues with the words "The seven year itch is quite a bitch," and you get the feeling that the interim period between this and her last English language album, I Know You’re Married, But I Have Feelings Too has not been all smooth sailing in the Wainwright household. Promotional duties for the last album revealed that she had married producer and her touring bass player Brad Alberta, and he is present on this album in the latter role, with production duties were handled by Cibo Mato’s Yuka C Honda.
That track is followed by "Can you believe it?', which kicks off with louche guitars and the killer line "I really like the make up sex, it's the only kind I ever get." It's got a Sheryl Crow sound to it, which is not the put down you may think it is. It's the Crow of Tuesday Night Music Club, that country rock sound. Clearly Wainwright has a different kind of voice, and the sax on this song lifts it above that sound, but there are parts of the album musically you can imagine being produced by artists like Crow. What separates it from that sort of jaunty country pop is that voice and the confessional element to the lyrics, I can't imagine Crow singing a line like "Fewer people to complain to, so I built a ship of shit and sent it to you," from 'Can You Believe It'.
Her voice is used to devastating effect on 'Proserpina', apparently the last song written by her mother, Kate McGarrigle. It's a beautiful and simple song with just piano and simple strings, accompanied by a choir on the chorus is a lovely song that gifts the album its title. When the choir joined in there was definitely more dust floating around the room; it had to be the dust causing a moistness about the eyes.
It must be difficult in the Wainwright household to establish an identity for yourself, especially as a singer of folk songs, which I think may have influenced the change between album one and two and this. Brother Rufus ploughs the furrow with his dreary ballads and mawkish and operatic pop songs. Martha feels like the synthesis of all the family facets, but also has more than enough individuality to carry on on her own. I'm sure she'll be able to carry on knowing I think so.
The album leaps around in terms of styles, from the aforementioned 'Proserpina' to something like 'I Wanna Make An Arrest' where it starts of like Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' before sounding like Martha Wainwright singing over some lost David Byrne tune, some quirky funk number, something from Rei Momo perhaps.
One of the standout tracks for me is the final song, 'Everything's Wrong'. It has a simple sound, brushed drums, an electric guitar being strummed, but you sense it's going to build into something big as it picks up pace as it goes along. This comes on like an address to the whole family, the husband, the baby, the world at large. It has a almost Dirty Three like quality about it, if you can imagine the violin being replaced by her voice. This feeling is bolstered by the presence of Jim White of Dirty Three fame. The song threatens to explode at some point around the 3.30 mark, but doesn't. Musically it holds its tongue, while all around it Wainwright flings out lines like "I do most everything wrong…Even on the day you were born…My husband's been lying and cheating. I turn my cheek and resign. I change my tune every day," or "There is one thing I want you to be. That is smarter than me. If things they don't seem right open your wings and take flight, don't stick around to watch the pieces fall. I don't want you to feel alone."
Come Home To Mama continues the trajectory of change between her albums. The leap between the folk of her eponymous debut and the poppier (but not pop) 'I Know You’re Married…' was noticeable; a 180 degree turn. Here it's more like veering 20 degrees off that course. The major difference is in the production, Wainwright has said that she would often sing stuff and then Mato would 'build the track around that, and for me that's where the album is at its weakest. When it has a more 'live' feeling the album shines (tracks like the opening pair, 'Proserpina' and closing track 'Everything’s Wrong' in particular). It does feel like Martha Wainwright is one album away form making something truly incredible though.