If you haven’t been keeping track, Marianne Faithfull has been in the music business for 50 years. For the most part, she’s best known for her association with the Rolling Stones starting with 1965’s “As Tears Go By,” the notorious drug bust where she was naked wrapped in a rug at Keith Richards’ home, her relationship with Mick Jagger, and her co-writing “Sister Morphine.” During the ’70s, she famously wrestled with drug addiction which resulted in her voice becoming raw and gravelly with a gritty lower register. Then came 1979 and her magnificent Broken English with classic songs like the title track, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordon,” and a powerful take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”
During the ’80s, two projects would prove to have longterm implications. First, in 1985 Faithfull performed “Ballad of the Soldier’s Wife” on Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill. This was producer Hal Willner’s all-star tribute to one half of the Bertolt Brecht/Weill songwriting team. This led to Faithfull participating in a number of Brecht/Weill productions on stage and on record. Then, in 1987, Willner also produced Faithfull’s most highly regarded release of the decade, Strange Weather. On this release, Faithfull transformed herself into a cabaret-flavored jazz and blues interpreter.
While she’s been drawing from a varied palate of styles ever since, her 20th album, Give My Love to London, shows she may be sending her ironic love to the British Isles, but her current approach still has one foot in Lotte Lenya’s Weimar-era Berlin and the other in Edith Piaf’s Paris music halls. Produced by Rob Ellis and Dimitri Tikovoi, it benefits from the contributions of a number of collaborators. Faithfull co-wrote the title song with Steve Earle, and there’s one clear reference to her Brecht/Weill inspirations when she sings, “I’m singing ‘Pirate Jenny’ as the blackship’s bearing down.” “Pirate Jenny,” of course, is a famous song from The Threepenny Opera which Faithfull performed in a stage revival of the production in Dublin and on her 1997 release 20th Century Blues, yet another example of her deep interest in Weimar-era musical theater.
On the other side of the musical spectrum, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters penned “Sparrows Will Sing,” the track selected for the first single. (Is it, perhaps, a nod to Edith Piaf who was known as “The Little Sparrow”?) In a similar mold, Faithfull sings Nick Cave’s piano-and violin-based “Late Victorian Holocaust” and the two co-wrote another piano ballad, “Deep Water.” I can’t think of a more appropriate contemporary poet/songwriter for Faithfull to cover than Leonard Cohen, and she does just that with the dramatic “Going Home,” a number Leonard composed with longtime partner Patrick Leonard. Faithfull too pairs with Leonard on “Mother Wolf,” a comment on war that has me speculating if she had a Brecht anti-war play in mind, namely Mother Courage.
The song that takes Faithfull furthest back to her early folk days is “Love More or Less,” an acoustic guitar co-write with Tom McRae. While the majority of the songs are Faithfull co-compositions, she does go back in time for some covers including the jauntiest song on the set, the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love.” The album’s closer, the smoky “I Get Along Without You Very Well” is from Hoagy Carmichael. For that one, we can almost see the single stage light over the singer dimming as the story fades out.
Other contributors of note, both as composers and players, were Anna Calvi (“Falling Back”), Ed Harcourt (“True Lies”), Portishead’s Adrian Utley, and members of the Bad Seeds. All in all, this cast of writers and performers give Faithfull everything she needs to support her world-weary “Baroness of Bohemia” theatricality.
Most reviews to date rate Give My Love to London very highly indeed, and deservedly so. While it marks her 50th anniversary, it shouldn’t be seen as her penultimate culmination, or at least not Faithfull’s grand finale. It’s a high point in her career and should hopefully draw in new listeners into her constantly evolving dark wisdom. It’s her best so far in the 21st century.
[amazon asin=B00O0MBL66&template=iframe image]