The saddest and most candid moments on Martha Wainwright’s self-titled debut involved imaginary marriages and bold, post-feminist declarations like “I have no husband/I have no reason to be alive.” So it’s telling that now that Wainwright is happily wed (to Brad Albetta, who produced Martha Wainwright as well as parts of her sophomore long player, I Know You’re Married But I Have Feelings Too), the quality of her songwriting, both lyrically and musically, has taken a downward turn. Wainwright is still provocative, self-deprecating and derisive (“Everything you say I oppose/I blame it on my hole/It’s just my role,” she sings on “Comin’ Tonight”) and her voice is still something spectacular to behold, especially when it verges on a full-throated wail, but her verses are too often breathy and vibrato-ridden (“Heart Club Band”) and she frequently slips into Kate Bush-like eccentricities (“So Many Friends”). A cover of Eurythmics’s “Love Is a Stranger,” one of the greatest songs in the duo’s canon, is stripped of its menace thanks to an arrangement that’s too bouncy and chipper for its weighty subject matter, and the same problem plagues originals like the cheery “You Cheated Me” and “The George Song,” an ode to a friend who committed suicide, without any indication of deliberate irony. There are a few songs that should satisfy fans of “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” Wainwright’s biting indictment of her father, Loudon Wainwright III, including the opening track “Bleeding All Over You,” the jilted-lover anthem “Jimi” and the penultimate “I Wish I Were,” in which she expertly drags out the word “afraid” for 10 frighteningly long seconds. And by any other standard, I Know You’re Married would be a solid effort, but based on her own output alone, it’s a considerable disappointment.
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