Marianne Faithfull – Give My Love To London – Dramatico Records
by Shaine Scarminach
Among the waves of new, hip, and cool washing over music this year, a few cultural stalwarts also chose to cast anchor: Leonard Cohen with a new album and tour at eighty years old; Neil Young with music, a book, and (improbably) a music service; and now Marianne Faithful with her new album Give My Love to London. Known to most through her storied relationship with Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger and well publicized drug addiction, Faithful has nevertheless charted a lengthy and successful course through the worlds of music, film, and theater. Beginning with her 1964 hit, “As Tears Go By,” she went on to release a number of popular singles and appear in films by auteur directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Kenneth Anger. While substance abuse pushed her into a musical slump for much of the 1970s, her 1979 album Modern English marked a triumphant return and critical success, sparked in part by the energizing influence of punk. Her musical output has continued to garner praise in subsequent decades, especially more recent work, and her new album is no exception.
Give My Love to London is a self-consciously ensemble affair, one particularly indebted to place. The album brings together a menagerie of British music veterans. Produced by Rob Harris and mixed by Flood, London has among its many credits performances by Brian Eno, Mick Jones, and Anna Calvi and songs written by Roger Waters, Steve Earle, and Nick Cave. Given such an eclectic mix in the studio, the finished product naturally proves just as wide ranging. The album’s eponymous opener, co-written with Earle, features the best of his work in the long traditions of American folk and country music. Similarly, the Roger Water’s penned “Sparrows Will Sing,” recalls Pink Floyd’s spacious sonic textures and vibrant melodies. Despite its variety, the album finds a groove early on that rarely wavers, moving as it does between upbeat country and rock tunes and moody ballads. Across the album’s eleven tracks, the tasteful and understated music is always placed in service of Faithful’s captivating voice. Long gone is her sixties pop croon, London instead features the cracked and brittle voice Faithful has forged through years of missteps but also great strides. Whereas her voice often floats above its musical backdrop, seemingly aloof from age, it’s the weathered quality that reminds us transcendence comes only through a deep and difficult engagement with the world.
“Late Victorian Holocausts,” written by Nick Cave and forming the album’s centerpiece, perfectly showcases this marriage of past and present, reflection and recovery. The song takes its evocative title from a book by historian Mike Davis, which details Third World famines caused by colonial and capitalist exploitation. Whereas the dark matter of the modern world forms something of Cave’s lyrical bread and butter, it may seem at first glance an odd subject for a singer whose last album took the title Horses and High Heels. But Faithful is no stranger to somber themes: the title track to Modern English notably made reference to Ulrike Meinhof and the Red Army Faction, a revolutionary group who led a campaign of armed struggled against the German state across the 1970s. With “Late Victorian Holocausts,” world events again provide Faithful a window to look out upon her personal history. As her vocals slowly unwind over a melancholy piano, the muted pleasure and pain of memory rise up as if through amber. Evoking the past can often be a way to set it free, and Faithful sounds if nothing else on this album – free of her past and facing the future.