I first saw Marianne Faithfull back in the late seventies, maybe the very early eighties, performing in a pub on Fulham Broadway, London. I was totally mesmerized by her presence and even though I can’t remember a single song she performed I can still see her on stage holding me and many others in the palm of her hand.
For me she represented a very real link back to earlier times of legendary sixties hedonism when rock stars were exactly that. Just up the road from that pub had been the epicenter of that scene. Cheyne Walk, Chelsea which housed both Keith and Mick, a stones throw away from Brian Jones. The beautiful Marianne was intrinsically linked to the band and everything that went with it.
Her's is a life lived. Her epitaph will be exactly that. It has at times been lived beyond the red line of danger. For most of it she has been next to the great and the not so good and shared those times to the full. She was part of the legend of the sixties, part of the reason we remain fascinated by it and the huge irrevocable changes it brought to society.
Oddly in a world of continuing double standards Marianne finds her past the subject of criticism for many of its excesses. Meanwhile for the Stones themselves the very same stories help to confirm their, rightful, legendary status in rock music’s darker side. There was a time however when you could hardly separate the two. She was very much a part and, in equal measure, a victim of those life changing times.
The release of Easy Come Easy Go, her first album since the excellent Before The Poison (2005), is notable for several intriguing reasons. This is most definitely the case with the guest appearance of fellow survivor Keith Richards who duets on Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home”.
How this came about is the subject of a touching moment revealed in the accompanying DVD. Keith has always loved this song and back in the sixties used to sing it with Gram Parsons. Sadly, unlike Keith and Marianne, he was one of far too many that didn’t make it.
There we have the essence to the choices Marianne and producer Hal Willner made when compiling the sprawling double album version. There isn’t a casual throwaway moment anywhere near the collection.
Despite drawing from such diverse sources as Dolly Parton, Duke Ellington, Smokey Robinson, Morrissey, The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Traffic it is as though every song captures something of the incredible life journey of today’s Marianne.
That personal raw edge is displayed in all its compelling emotion in the excellent DVD. Marianne’s excited, nervous anticipation on hearing the final mix is expertly captured. She hangs on every note, lives every line, and feels every beat. She puts something of herself and a life lived to the full into every moment. In doing so she enriches every song whilst making each her own.
That is quite a feat when you consider that several of these tracks have been previously recorded by many legendary performers. Marianne doesn’t hide from these powerful songs. She doesn’t merely perform them or repeat them, she injects her experiences, rough and smooth, light and dark, triumphant and disastrous, into them.
There is regret, there is touching and often painful memory, there is heartfelt love, but above all there is style. Producer Hal Willner, who worked with Marianne on her 1987 album Strange Weather, describes the moment when he heard ‘today’s Dietrich or Piaf’ whilst listening to another undoubted highlight in her musical career, A Child’s Adventure.
He says of his renewed collaboration, ‘I have been able to see Marianne’s art continue to grow, and to see her appreciated as the real artist. She is and to be recognized as one of the most powerful song interpreters of our time’.
He goes on to reveal that the album is made up largely if not completely with first takes that are devoid of overdubs. It is that fact that makes this recording stand up alongside many of her previous best works and confirms that claim regarding interpretation.
To complete the picture she is surrounded by an array of talent. Too many to list in full, they include Sean Lennon, Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, and of course Keith Richards. Behind that lays a foundation of some of the most respected musicians possible.
Together their performance is one of pure understanding, respect, and perfectly balanced interpretation. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that these are first takes.
The first disc opens with one of the collections strongest songs. I was convinced that the intensely powerful “Down from Dover” was written either by, or very much for, Marianne herself. In fact my ignorance was revealed and I discovered that it is in fact a Dolly Parton song. Marianne projects so much of herself into the tragically strong story that it becomes almost impossible to separate the two.
Wonderful versions of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude”, and Smokey Robinson’s “Ooh Baby Baby” follow. The poignant duet of Keith and Marianne on “Sing Me Back Home” provides an emotionally charged ending to the first section.
“Salvation” featuring Sean Lennon on guitar and vocals, and Morrissey’s “Dear God Please Help Me” both add extra mystique to her choices. Marianne’s desire to perform “Somewhere (A Place For Us)” from West Side Story is nicely explained in the DVD. In short it was the show that inspired her to go on the stage. Of course it was a choice that led to a remarkably eventful life but one that also very nearly destroyed her along the way.
Survive she has, however, this album underlines that fact with a generous and well considered journey through the music she finds inspirational.
Easy Come Easy Go would have made a great single album and is available in that format. Having said that, I still strongly recommend the double deluxe edition as every recording brings something magical to the table.
Each track reveals a little more of those past glories, the dangerous derailments, and every single battle scar of those heady days in sixties Chelsea.
For more information on Marianne Faithfull please visit her official website.