Release Date: Nov 11, 2014
Record label: Dramatico
Against an arresting backdrop of turbulent percussion (Dimitri Tikovoi and Rob Ellis), gnarly guitars (Adrian Utley), shrieky violin (Warren Ellis) and dreamy organ (Ed Harcourt), Marianne Faithfull delivers a denunciation of the bad guys on “Mother Wolf”, the single most startling track on her altogether excellent new album, Give My Love to London. “The words that come out of your mouth disgust me / The thoughts in your heart … sicken me!” Faithfull intones with matchless disdain, as the music surges, swirls and swells around her. It’s a thrilling, cathartic performance, part of the power of which resides in its laying to rest—once and for all—the hidebound notion that grandmothers can’t rock.
Though there is no musical resemblance, the title track of Marianne Faithfull's Give My Love to London looks back at her brilliant reading of Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's "Pirate Jenny" on her 20th Century Blues album from 1997, and even mentions her by name. Co-written with Steve Earle, who frames her lyrics in an acoustic, Celtic, country stomp, it's a conqueror's last laugh: she's survived the best attempts at securing her demise. (Bouts with cancer and a fall that broke her sacrum in four places among them.) Faithfull's previous four albums in the 21st century have all been strong, but this one tops them.
Over five decades, Marianne Faithfull’s recording career has always been somewhat overshadowed by her tempestuous personal life. That’s a shame because when she hits form – as she does here, on her 20th album – she’s one of our most singular talents. Give My Love to London features an inspired collection of collaborators, including Roger Waters, Nick Cave, Anna Calvi and Brian Eno, yet Faithfull never yields centre stage, her gravelly voice imbuing this collection with, by turns, passion, regret and - on Mother Wolf - icy contempt.
“Give my love to London,” Marianne Faithfull sings on the title track to her latest album. At first it sounds like a friendly request, but it soon becomes a threat: “The river’s runny bloody, the towers tumbling down,” she sings, not exactly horrified by the tableau. “I’m singing ‘Pirate Jenny’ as the blackship’s bearing down.” It’s a sly reference.
When she undertakes her world tour to mark 50 years since the release of her first single, As Tears Go By, Marianne Faithfull will enjoy the rare luxury of choosing her setlist from a catalogue whose later works eclipse the early stuff. After the intimate reflections of 2011’s Horses And High Heels, her latest long-player revisits the soul-baring maelstrom of 2005’s Before The Poison and is again assisted musically by Nick Cave, plus violinist Warren Ellis and drummer Jim Sclavunos. As such, crashing Bad Seeds drama explodes on tracks such as the tumultuous anti-war Mother Wolf.
Marianne Faithfull is a name synonymous with another time, one associated primarily with the libertine Swinging Sixties and its darker underbelly of sex, hard drugs and subversion, something that ensured fame and notoriety came her way in equal measure. Whilst it now stretches across a full five decades, Faithfull’s recording career seems to be also forever locked in the past. Be it the quaint orchestral pop of her 1960’s nascence or the anger and ravaged self-destruction from which her 1979 masterpiece Broken English emerged, these are almost always the musical barometers by she is measured.
In a career that spans nearly half a century, how does an artist stay interesting? Marianne Faithfull has always worked with diverse producers, co-writers and instrumentalists, bringing new perspectives and dimensions to her albums while maintaining her unique and distinctive sound. On Faithfull's latest album, Give My Love to London, the collaborations work best when they contrast with Faithfull's signature weathered chanteuse persona, giving a new background for her unmistakable voice. The album opens strongly with "Give my Love to London," co-written with Steve Earle.
On perhaps her most potent record since 1979's raw Broken English, rock survivor Marianne Faithfull declaims like a dystopian queen of England, surveying a damaged empire with a cold eye and a magnificently wracked but indomitable voice. She draws excellence from star collaborators: Steve Earle co-wrote the withering title track; Roger Waters supplied the anthemic "Sparrows Will Sing"; Nick Cave contributed a dazzling junkie reverie, "Late Victorian Holocaust." The standard "I Get Along Without You Very Well" sounds delivered from the afterworld by a woman who's seen too much but will not look away. .
The cover of Marianne Faithfull’s 20th studio album presents her as gamine and romantic, shrouded in cigarette smoke, lost in a nostalgic reverie. It’s a conjuring trick, an attempt to turn back the years – in sharp contrast to the songs inside. The title track has a country stomp to it, but its thumping guitar and scything violin score a vivid glimpse of London burning during the 2011 riots.
When Marianne Faithfull sings, it feels as though her voice is clutching your throat. Her 20th studio album in five decades features a laudable list of songwriters – including Steve Earle, Roger Waters, Nick Cave and Anna Calvi – and yet her caustic delivery is the main attraction, as always. On Sparrows Will Sing, penned by Waters, Faithfull imagines future generations of children inheriting a broken world.
Marianne Faithfull does not bend to musical styles: They bend to her. As early as 1979’s “Broken English,” each of the English singer-songwriter’s albums has been as much about her persona as a damaged but defiant survivor — or “the bohemian grandmother,” as she described herself to the Globe in 2011. “Give My Love to London” has a poignant air of saying farewell, and if it is indeed her swan song, it’s a triumphant sendoff that reiterates what a singular figure she has been in rock music.