Album Reviews: Martha Wainwright - Love Will Be Reborn and Villagers - Fever Dreams

Martha Wainwright – Love is born again

★★★★ ☆

After Martha Wainwright divorced her ten-year-old husband, she assumed she would be alone forever. Not only had she fathered two children with ex-producer partner Brad Albetta, but most of her albums as well – including her brilliant self-titled debut in 2005. But then she found herself in a new relationship and with a fresh determination for the kind of music she wanted to make.

Love Will Be Reborn features an artist who has spent much of her career being marginalized a little by the more elaborate compositions of her older brother Rufus. While the eldest Wainwright sibling has received recognition (and Grammy awards), Wainwright has released her own, albeit less consistent, series of albums, many of which deal with subjects of feeling “less than”. Now, however, she is occupied with other, more universal topics. “I’m getting older,” she mourns over spaghetti western guitar sounds. “I need your love / and I need your blood.” And even when she’s feeling bad, the lively instrumentation – double bass strikes, chirping acoustic guitar picking, screeching electric licks, galvanizing percussion – lifts it out of the doldrums.

The song order reflects the mess in real life of breaking up a past relationship while falling in love with someone new. The gin-soaked “Report Card” puts Wainwright in an empty house and is heartbroken over the absence of her children. It’s shocking, beautifully raw, “I hope you will miss me / As much as I miss you / Because my heart is always broken / And I want you to feel the way I do.” She often uses her voice as Gun one, growls and howls its pain into the ether; on the French-language piano ballad “Falaise de Malaise”, however, she is whisperingly vulnerable. What an extraordinary artist Martha Wainwright is.

Villager – Feverish dreams

★★★★ ☆

If we’re not sure where we’re going, we might as well enjoy the trip. This seems to be the point of view of Conor Oberst, whose Villagers fifth album is an escapist fantasy of unexpected joys.

The Irish musician has never taken the obvious route and has returned with his most ambitious album to date. Fever Dreams is a rhapsody of artistic arrangements; there are circular synthesizers, blissful saxophone solos and Italian cinematic romance. But like the film composers Burt Bacharach, Piero Umiliani, who seem to inspire this album, Oberst adds a dash of melancholy and a pinch of fatalism to these songs. “The more I know, the more I am interested / the more I dare to try fate,” he sings on “Full Faith in Providence” over a dark, muffled piano.

Fever Dreams is a long way from the slimmed-down acoustic songs of “Where Have You Been All My Life?” From 2016 or the experimental electronica from “The Art of Pretending to Swim” from 2018. In the past, Obert’s broken lyric sounded too bluntly against such blatant instrumentation; here it is as if his words were bathed in moonlight, gently lured into being. A wonderful, lucid dream of a record.