In November 2009, Martha Wainwright gave birth to her first child in London. It was a difficult birth and her son held tenuously to life, while in a tragic twist, across the Atlantic in Montreal, his grandmother Kate McGarrigle's grasp on life was equally tenuous. Her battle with cancer came to an end in January 2010, and Wainwright faced the strange reality that she'd borne a son and lost her mother in less than two months.
The shock of these two events, combined with an awareness of growing older, provided the inspiration for her new album. Though you can't fault her ability to write songs that capture her vulnerability and confusion beautifully, while also finding a sense of humour, the delivery and production sometimes lose the point. Wainwright's vocal style is distinctive, but her slightly affected, breathy, Lolita approach on some songs like Can You Believe It can be disconcerting, especially when matching cheeky lyrics and sly winks with sharp relationship observations.
Blend that melodrama with a pop aesthetic and you get something like Four Black Sheep, which has the unusual distinction of sounding like Abba while telling the story of a fatal car accident.
But when she lets her genuine talent take the spotlight, Wainwright is quite stunning. Her captivating cover of McGarrigle's last-ever song Proserpina is a standout, and All Your Clothes is steeped in a sweet sort of grief.
Like her brother, she's a wonderful wordsmith, but she doesn't always hit the emotional buttons that are available.