The death of Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, from cancer in 2010 provides much of the emotion at the centre of the album. The other overriding lyrical influence is the birth of her first child in 2009. It is very much an album of hope and sadness, light and shade.
‘Come Home To Mama’ stands out as the most mature work Wainwright has produced yet. The greater resonance of the affecting lyrics is coupled with deftly understated and graceful arrangements, covering folksy pop, Fleetwood Mac-like soft rock and elegant torch songs. Opening track ‘I Am Sorry’ sets the tone, a grungy undulating rock track, it showcases Wainwright’s trademark vocal dynamics alongside some typically striking lyrical couplets, “the seven year itch is quite a bitch it’s true”.
There are a few playful moments amidst the more heart wrenching material: the easygoing swing of ‘Can You Believe It’ is a joy, and the opening line is also striking in the extreme as she confesses, “I only like the make up sex, it’s the only kind I ever get”.
There are admittedly a few too many filler tracks that pock mark the record but these are completely overshadowed by three songs of intense resonance and power, with ‘Proserpina’ a standout. The song was among the last written and performed by her mother and Wainwright here delivers a tender and delicate performance, it’s a piano ballad of beautiful poignancy featuring the apt album title.
‘All Your Clothes’ is similarly affecting. It describes going through her mother’s belongings. The lyrics are shatteringly honest, and at one point Wainwright plaintively cries, “The baby’s fine, my marriage is failing but I keep trying all the time’. Final track ’Everything Wrong’ ends the album on a fittingly touching note. This time Wainwright is addressing her son, declaring that “I am your protector” and promising to “try to stay alive to see as much through your eyes”.
There is a strong sense that ’Come Home To Mama’ marks something of a step forward for Wainwright both musically and lyrically. It’s an extremely fine album that is without doubt her best work yet.