Martha Wainwright's first foray into music plays like a scene from a family reunion gone horribly awry, with Wainwright in the role of the troublemaking malcontent who gets shit-faced drunk, then proceeds to slur sordid family secrets that have long ago been buried.
Her temperament bobs somewhere between vulnerable, wounded child and profanity-spewing angry woman. But after having righteously excoriated her relatives for stripping her self-esteem ("I'm scared you'll see not the way I don't love you / But the way I don't love myself," she sings on "TV Show") Wainwright finally collapses into a sobbing audio heap. The catch to all this emotional damage, though, is that her father is Loudon Wainwright III, her mother is one-half of the McGarrigle Sisters and her older brother is Rufus (who claimed the drama-queen role in the family a long time ago). This surprisingly good debut is still plenty dramatic—the album's standout song is actually called "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole," after all. But it's fun peeking into this family's dirty laundry, and Wainwright doesn't provide a filter between her raw emotions and her explicit lyrics. Her voice, at times a quivering trill, sounds as if it's been corrupted by too many cigarettes and too much hard booze. And her truthfulness is so blistering, she'd probably choke on a dishonest word.
Sewing together the confessional tone of folk—her parents' metier—with the fury and rebelliousness of punk—Wainwright's music is as straightforward as it is abrasive. Imagine if Virginia Woolf had picked up an acoustic guitar, rather than loading her pockets with stones. Alanis has got some competition.—Suzanne Ely