Release Date: Nov 2, 2018
Record label: BMG
Released 39 years ago today – 2nd November – an album called Broken English smashed down the boundaries of where women stood in the post-punk era. Not girls, women. Marianne Faithfull was 32 years old when she released Broken English, and had already lived 10 lifetimes. She had been all over the world, the darling of Mick Jagger – the greatest, biggest rockstar of all time, even then – and had fallen foul of the saturnine charms of heroin in a way that had eluded her beau.
Marianne Faithfull has not exactly had a good few years. Diagnosed with arthritis, the legendary artist turns 72 in little than over a month, which somehow feels young, considering the length of her musical tenure. Having released her debut all the way back in 1965, to say the least, it's been a long road. The twists and turns (not to mention the loss) along the way is well known to many, from the apple of Mick Jagger's eye, to a suicide attempt, to addiction, to her gradual, grand reemergence.
Near the start of Marianne Faithfull's 21st studio album, Negative Capability, the legendary singer beckons the audience toward her. "Gather 'round closely/Take in my words," she seems to say above gentle acoustic guitar and sumptuous piano. Applying classic literature to song with her poet's pen, this 11-track record illuminates her most personal fears and desires with an intimacy she's never before offered.
Fifty-four years into her career, her circle of friends increasingly shaking off their mortal coils and her body wracked with debilitating arthritis, you can see how easy it would be to regard 'Negative Capability', Marianne Faithfull's 21 st LP, as her late-career Johnny Cash swansong. Songs like 'As Tears Go By', wherein Faithfull's cracked voice is intertwined with the album's co-producer and long-serving Bad Seed Warren Ellis' distinctive, stirring violin, have a towering sense of finality, a maudlin atmosphere that can reduce the most immovable individual to uncontrollable weeping (guilty as charged, and while travelling on public transport too). To begin writing Faithfull off with this album would, however, be a gross insult.
I n 1964, Marianne Faithfull released her first single, the Jagger/Richards creation As Tears Go By. A maudlin rumination on the ageing process, it was a bizarre song for any 17-year-old to be singing - but Faithfull's cold, bored, briskly-paced rendition felt especially odd. In 1987, she re-recorded the track as a languid, pared-back ballad, but it's only now, aged 71, that she's been able to mine real emotional gravity from it.