Martha Wainwright is beginning again.
The beguiling performer and songwriter returns with Love Will Be Reborn. Not since 2012’s Come Home to Mama has a Martha Wainwright record been so full of original written material. Wainwright’s fifth studio album follows recent years of loneliness and clarity in search of optimism and joy.
Wainwright wrote the first song—and what would become the title track— of the record a few years ago. It was a very dark time, she says, but the positivity and luminosity of “Love Will Be Reborn” signalled what was to come. Wainwright was at a friend’s home in London to collaborate on something else entirely when she was struck by the need to write the song. Wainwright demures when songwriting—her process is undisciplined and she prefers to be alone. That day, soon left to that solitude, “Love Will Be Reborn” poured out of her.
“I wrote the song in its entirety within ten or fifteen minutes. I was bawling.” The track feels very English to Wainwright with a soft melody and thrumming guitar, evoking pastoral scenes. Wainwright croons, “There is love in every part of me, I know/ But the key has fallen deep into the snow / When the spring comes I will find it, and unlock my heart to rewind it.” It’s poetic and mysterious, yet still there is a yearning for joy and renewal. Wainwright sang the as-yet recorded “Love Will Be Reborn” on tour, serving as an anthem, giving her hope in a time when it was hard to have some.
Much of Wainwright’s songwriting since 2016’s Goodnight City felt too raw. “There were several years where I picked up the guitar, and I was so, so sad and depressed. I would just put it down because It was terrible.” Before writing it out, or writing through it for catharsis, Wainwright had to live it. Album opener “Middle of the Lake” reinforces Wainwright’s path forward as she sings over voltaic chords and percussion, “I sing my songs of love and pain / Winds of change or simply singing, I'm singing in the rain.” Her work never shies away from an existential throbbing wound. “There are a couple major subjects on the record. From what I can tell, there's really dark and then light,” she says,” It really is reflective of a very difficult period of divorce. Then, after that, it’s meeting somebody new and amazing. And so you hear certain songs about this new love.”
Love Will Be Reborn does have its playful and sensual side running parallel to some grim honesty. “Hole In My Heart” is an upbeat song, with Wainwright singing, “I got naked right away when I saw you / My love was like the rain when I saw you,” as is the track, “Getting Older,” which is about aging. And this new love. Other songs, she says, “represent me trying to shake away the past a little bit, the ball and chain of that anger, trying to escape from it.”
There is no song more gripping than “Report Card.” The song is stripped to essential instrumentals punctuating her anguish. Wainwright expresses on the sombre track a feeling of deep loneliness, evoking emotional nuances particular to parents and individuals separated from their children because of custody arrangements. “I was able to crystallize that sadness by portraying this woman alone in her house.” Wainwright sorrowfully sings, “My heart is always broken and I don’t want you to feel the way i do and “If I seem sad it’s because I am.”
Singing about her children and family is also familiar to Wainwright, a child from such a prestigious musical family. Wainwright has long carried this narrative featuring her famous father, Loudon, her mother, Kate McGarrigle, and her brother, Rufus.
Wainwright’s writing has, of course, evolved as she has grown older and become a mother. She has changed simply by living. While she was, as she says, extremely autobiographical before, her writing has altered to protect her children in some ways. But, and more important, she says, “I can't deny myself the need to express myself. As a songwriter, I have to be able to express myself, and it would be crazy to me to not have songs that are about these two people who I care the most about in the world.”
Back in Montreal, in the basement of her brand new cafe, Ursa, serving as a studio, Wainwright got to work. She enlisted the help of Toronto musicians Thom Gill, Phil Melanson and Josh Cole to perform in her band, and producer Pierre Marchand. His best known collaboration is with Sarah McLachlan, producing some of her iconic 90s songs. Marchand also has a familial connection to Wainwright. Marchand produced her brother Rufus’s second album poses as well as Wainwright’s mother and aunt’s record, Heartbeats Accelerating. It was a record made after sometime, much like Wainwright’s gap since Goodnight City, and McGarrigle was the same age that Wainwright is now. It seems like a musical synergy only the late McGarrigle and Wainwright could have.
Like many records, Love Will Be Reborn was made during a global pandemic. But the process, both freeing and infuriating, offered Wainwright a new way of creating. She let go a little more, giving way for Marchand to play around with vocals, emphasizing the beauty in its inherent scratchiness and edge. This record, Wainwright jokes, is her Canadian record, as she’s back in Montreal, working with musicians from Toronto, and Marchand as producer.
Martha Wainwright's role as an artist has always been to embrace her wildness and sketch out her raw depth. This edge is what makes Wainwright uncompromisingly herself, and continues to draw in an audience two decades on. To begin again does not mean starting over. This process of rebirth honours the past to move forward. Love Will Be Reborn captures Wainwright’s heart in transition. In an effort to rise out of some painful depths, as she says much like a phoenix from the ashes of an existential twilight, Wainwright bore witness to what her heart endured to find a new joy once more.