Album reviews: Martha Wainwright – Love Will Be Reborn, and Villagers – Fever Dreams

Martha Wainwright explores the aftermath of divorce and the joy of finding new love, while Villagers revel in a lush sonic dreamscape

Roisin O'Connor
Saturday 21 August 2021 13:33
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<p>MArtha WAinwright</p>

MArtha WAinwright

Martha Wainwright – Love Will Be Reborn

★★★★☆

After Martha Wainwright divorced her husband of 10 years, she assumed she would be alone forever. She hadn’t just conceived two children with her producer ex-partner, Brad Albetta, but also most of her albums – including her brilliant self-titled debut in 2005. But then she found herself in a new relationship, and with it a fresh resolve for the kind of music she wanted to make.

Love Will Be Reborn presents an artist who has spent much of her career being somewhat sidelined by the more ornate compositions of her older brother, Rufus. While the eldest Wainwright sibling has received acclaim (and Grammy awards), Wainwright has released her own, albeit less consistent, string of albums, many of which explore themes of feeling “less than”. Now, though, she’s preoccupied with other, more universal themes. “I’m getting older,” she mourns over spaghetti western twangs of guitar. “I need your love/ And I need your blood.” And even when she’s miserable, the buoyant instrumentation – thwacks of double bass, chirpy acoustic guitar picking, squealing electric licks, galvanising percussion – lifts her out of the doldrums.

The song order mirrors the real-life messiness of dismantling a past relationship while falling in love with someone new. The gin-soaked “Report Card” places Wainwright in an empty house and heartbroken over the absence of her children. It is shockingly, beautifully raw: “I hope you’ll miss me/ As much as I miss you/ Cause my heart is always broken/ And I want you to feel the way I do.” She frequently weaponises her voice, snarling and howling her pain into the ether; on the French-spoken piano ballad “Falaise de Malaise”, though, she is whisperingly vulnerable. What an extraordinary artist Martha Wainwright is.

Villagers – Fever Dreams

★★★★☆

If we’re not sure where we’re going, we might as well enjoy the journey. This seems to be the outlook of Conor O’Brien, whose fifth Villagers album is an escapist fantasy of unexpected delights.

Never one to choose the obvious path, the Irish musician has returned with his most ambitious record yet. Fever Dreams is a rhapsody of ornate arrangements; there are orbiting synths, blissed-out sax solos and Italianate, cinematic romance. But like the film composers who seem to have inspired this album – Burt Bacharach, Piero Umiliani – Oberst adds a drop of melancholy and a dash of fatalism to these songs. “The more I know, the more I care/ The more I dare to tempt fate,” he sings on “Full Faith in Providence”, over a sombre, muffled piano.

Fever Dreams is a far cry from the stripped-down acoustic songs of 2016’s Where Have You Been All My Life?, or the experimental electronica of 2018’s The Art of Pretending to Swim. In the past, Obert’s fractured lyricism has sounded too blunt against such stark instrumentation; here it’s as though his words are being bathed in moonlight, coaxed softly into being. A wonderful, lucid dream of a record.

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