Wednesday, February 10, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1448: Martha Wainwright

For the second straight review we delve into the wonders of 2008. As we do so, however, we depart the world of heavy metal.

Disc 1448 is…. I Know You’re Married, But I’ve Got Feelings Too

Artist: Martha Wainwright

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover?  Martha looks absolutely amazing here, but would it kill the couch to show a little leg? That floor-length skirt does nothing for its curves.

You might also ask why Martha is laying so awkwardly, but couches this size are just awkward for reclining; you just can’t stretch out. And if she were to do so, those heels could easily tear the fabric.

How I Came To Know It: I was introduced by a coworker in my last job, Anna, who played me one of her songs. While it wasn’t on this album, it did cause me to dig through Martha Wainwright’s back catalogue. “I Know…etc.” is one of the albums I discovered in that process.

How It Stacks Up: I have two Martha Wainwright records. Of the two, I must put “I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too” in at #2. Depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, this means it earns a silver medal or comes in last.

Ratings: 3 stars

“There are days when the cage
Doesn’t seem to open very wide at all.”

These lines open the record and along with the song’s title (“Bleeding All Over You” you know early on you are in for an emotional rollercoaster ride. This is a collection of mournful dirges dressed up as pop songs that sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.

At their best they are heartbreaking birdsongs warbling with a sad beauty. At their worst, they’re caterwauls of despair – a tomcat yowling at the moon while dodging old shoes thrown by neighbours trying to get some sleep. Either way, you can’t deny they come from a place of passion.

Wainwright has a great voice, and she explores every corner of it. On “You Cheated Me” she sings in a soft and breathy whisper, and on “Tower Song” she climbs high up in her head voice and pulses with a light ululation. Across a whole album it’s an acquired taste, and on my first listen I found it hard to settle in, sometimes all the verbal gymnastics even getting in the way of Martha’s natural talent for storytelling. No matter how artistic or creative it may be, if there is too much going on vocally, at some point it just upstages a good tale.

When Wainwright plays it straight, as she does on “You Cheated Me” and “Comin’ Tonight” she’s at her best, blending smooth production with innovative melodies and phrasing. She has a gift for climbing up high in the middle of a progression, and then tumbling down the other side.

At other times, such as on “Tower Song” it feels more like an interpretive dance gone wrong. Overly creative, trying to evoke emotional resonance with strangeness, but ending up with only the latter. There’s a Patti Smith vibe when she goes for this, but it doesn’t land that same gut-punch that makes Smith’s songs so powerful and affecting.

Subject-wise Wainwright gets right to the heart of nasty and unhealthy relationships. “You Cheated Me” and “In the Middle of the Night” both masterfully twine hints of violence and emotional damage around a core of sensual longing that ably captures the confusion of the characters that inhabit them.

The biggest problem on the record is that Wainwright tends to over-sing songs that don’t need the extra push to make their point.  The record is also a bit long, and the latter third tends to drag a little with a lot of overlong atmospheric numbers. That said, I should note that even the songs I don’t like, do what they do deliberately, and do it well. It just isn’t always my cup of tea.

The record ends with a solid up-tempo cover of the Eurythmics “Love is a Stranger” which has an unexpected country/rockabilly vibe that channels a bit of early Springsteen. Crossed with Wainwright’s unique vocal styles, makes for a catchy mix.

In the end, this record is not unlike its cover: a mix of awkward and sexy. I never got comfortable enough to love the experience, but it had some good moments.

Best tracks: Bleeding All Over You, You Cheated Me, Comin’ Tonight, In the Middle of the Night

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