Martha Wainwright’s fourth solo album, ‘Goodnight City’, is a collection of a broad swathe of musical textures and styles. While sometimes unhinged and eagerly experimental, the album is a mature take on Wainwright’s confessionals, of love and heartbreak, that established her as an artist.
The album does have a few flat spots and, both notably and unfortunately, it starts with one. ‘Around The Bend’ might have been meant as a gentle introduction to a dense album but, with tired lyrical ideas, it gives the false first impression that this album isn’t as interesting as it is.
The A-side wanders along nicely, with an enjoyable half-dozen songs, the highlight of which is ‘Franci’. ‘Goodnight City’ is Wainwright’s first album since the birth of her second child, Francis Valentine, and this song is a sweet part time-capsuled letter and part devoted ode to him.
Wainwright’s family features heavily in the album. Her husband co-produced the record and is the subject of ‘Before The Children Came Along’. There are two songs dedicated to her new child and ‘Window’ is written about her first.
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The latter is a sign-post of a shift in the album; when it switches from gentle, reflective, singer-songwriter tunes to something a bit darker.
The pick of the album is the Beth Orton track, ‘Alexandria’, which features Wainwright’s beautifully sandy voice, howling – ‘Alexandria’. An elongated word that is quickly followed by the ominous line – “I knew that there was more than just goodbye.” The song of longing is fittingly topped off by a distant sax and the support of subtle back up singers.
It is followed by ‘So Down’ – Wainwright’s successful attempt at a Patti Smith song. It features the line – “will we ever make love like we did when we were young,” which captures the sentiment of looking at the past with sentimentality and only hints of regret, that floats through the album.
‘One of Us’ then works as an emotional counterweight. It is a simple, Glen Hansard co-written, piano ballad carried by heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics and the emotional warble of Wainwright’s voice. The final lines – “It’s maybe hard to swallow; but one of us will lose” – hit with such weight that it seems like a fitting end to the record.
For that reason, it is almost anti-climatic when the album finishes with a sassy distorted bass driven grove, ‘Take The Reins’, and the dreamy theatre ballad, ‘Francis’.
’Goodnight City’ is an album with a few minor, but obvious, faults. However, in its best moments, the record reaches such great heights, that the flat points are easy to forgive and quickly forgotten.