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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Marianne Faithfull August 8, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

At the start of the pandemic there was the bad news that Marianne Faithfull had contracted Covid-19. Thankfully she has made a good recovery and more power to her. But that made me go back and listen to her 1979 album.. I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t listened to songs from it since the early to mid-1980s and I’m fairly sure I never heard it in its entirety then or since.

Which is my loss and perhaps my gain since it was peculiarly enjoyable to listen to a very varied, knotty, complex set of songs that touch on new wave, punk, disco, rock and other genres with an adeptness that is remarkable given her previous musical homes – consider that by the time Broken English was released this was her eight album proper (and her second of the 1970s). Granted things had gone significantly awry for her in that period, not least serious addiction and living on the streets.

It would be wrong to say that the album is quite punk, or quite rock. The song that is most clearly positioned in those areas, ‘Why’d Ya Do It’ is the last on the album, lyrically excoriating and with guitar lines that are not unreminiscent of Bowie. The other tracks are less clearly so, the title track – a work of genius – is synth driven with (natch) reverbed guitar riffs and that certainly foreshadows a lot of good and bad that was to come down the musical line (and dedicated to Ulrike Meinhof). Steve Winwood was brought in late in proceedings to beef up the sound with a touch of electronica (got to love the curious sounds in the background of Witches Song). To good effect. But the songs themselves are pretty great (and Tim Hardin co-wrote Brain Drain). And then there’s her voice and the lyrics. This is an emphatically feminist album with a stark, uncompromising view of the world delivered by Faithfull (to take but one example the cover of The Ballad of Lucy Jordan).

Amazingly Allmusic devotes just two sentences to the album.

After a lengthy absence, Faithfull resurfaced on this 1979 album, which took the edgy and brittle sound of punk rock and gave it a shot of studio-smooth dance rock. Faithfull’s whiskey-worn vocals perfectly match the bitter and biting “Why’d Ya Do It” and revitalize John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

Robert Christgau wrote of the album:

A punk-disco fusion so uncompromised it will scare away fans of both genres, which share a taste for nasty girls that rarely extends to females past thirty with rat’s-nest hair and last night’s makeup on. The raw dance music isn’t exactly original, and sometimes the offhandedness of the lyrics can be annoying, but I like this even when it’s pro forma and/or sloppy, or maybe because it’s pro forma and/or sloppy, like Dylan when he’s good. “Why’d ya spit on my snatch?” indeed–the music’s harshest account of a woman fending with the world

It’s that sort of an album. The songs are smart, honest and resonant, perhaps particularly now. The mood is dark but thoughtful. Also included Sister Morphine that was recorded during the sessions for the album (or re-recorded given it originally was recorded in 1969), released around the same time and wound up on 12” (dispiritingly she had to fight to get the co-credit along with Jagger and Richards. Is it my imagination or did Fanning play this a fair bit?).

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan

Broken English

Why’d Ya Do It?

Witches Song

Working Class Hero

Sister Morphine


1. Colm B - August 8, 2020

I met Marianne Faithful once. I was helping out in the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign office in Dublin city centre sometime in the late 90s. A practitioner of trad Chinese medicine had an office in the same dingy third or fourth floor of the building so people would often knock on the ETISC door looking for him. I was there by myself one day when MF called asking if Dr so and so was around. Being a musical ignoramus, I didn’t recognise her until she asked me to tell the good doc that she had called – such is her fame that even I recognised her name. All I remember is that she had a very grand English accent and that she was exceptionally polite!
Eat your heart out WBS.

Liked by 2 people

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