Currently celebrating 50 years in the music business (the cigarette smoke wreathed cover capturing her iconic 60s image), Faithfull’s 20th studio album, her follow up to 2011’s Horses And High Heels, has been hailed as her finest work since the seminal Broken English back in 1979. Well, yes, with certain reservations.
Working with a band that features Ed Harcourt on keys, bass and backing vocals and Portishead’s Adrian Utley on guitar, the album’s also littered with guest musicians that include Mick Jones, Warren Ellis from the Bad Seeds, Ben Christophers, Brian Eno, Anna Calvi and Steve Earle, the latter two also providing the music on a couple of co-writes.
It’s the Earle collaboration title track that kicks things off, a trademark country stomp with Ellis on violin providing the foundation for Faithfull’s sardonic love letter to a city with which she has a decidedly ambivalent relationship. Then, with a piano riff evoking I’m Waiting For The Man, Sparrows Will Sing is a typically soaring Roger Waters number about the young generation rejecting the ‘candyfloss techno hell’ and bringing a ‘fresh breeze’ as they untangle the ‘unholy mess’ to a Callooh, Callooh Callay refrain.
A dark waltzing spit in the eye of a treacherous lover, True Lies teams her with Harcourt and percussionist Dimitri Tikovi for an angry swirl of raw guitars to mirror Faithfull’s abrasive vocals.
Bedrocked by Harcourt’s resonant piano chords, songwriter Tom McRae provides acoustic guitar and his co-penned gentle, if somewhat resigned ballad, Love More Or Less, before the arrival of the transfixing Late Victorian Holocaust, a shadow-shrouded nostalgia trip number written specifically for her by Nick Cave, string quartet washing over the funereal repeated neurotic piano note.
A nod to her past perhaps, The Price Of Love, a cover of the Everlys’ 60s hit is a driving, rocking version with Son of Dave wailing away on harmonica, but, whole following the arrangement of the original, it doesn’t have the same loose-limbed quality, Faithfull’s uninvolved delivery compounding the somewhat sluggish effect. Calvi provides backing vocals and turns up again on the following, co-penned, track, Falling Back, a disappointingly overcooked, strings-embossed, melodramatic slice of run of the mill adult rock which, in tandem with the lyrically vitriolic but musically plodding Patrick Leonard co-write Mother Wolf, rather dull the album’s overall lustre.
Far better is Deep Water, a Faithfull/Cave collaboration which, featuring Ellis on flute, Harcourt’s simple tinkling piano pattern and Christopher’s Harmonium as well as Tikovi’s string arrangement, has a glacial baroque air, even if, at times, it slightly recalls Walking In The Air.
Featuring Eno on backing vocals, the album’s second ‘cover’ is Leonard Cohen’s Going Home from Old Ideas, a half-spoken treatment reflective of the original, although, with a simple piano and guitar arrangement, she delivers the lines in a cracked, almost cabaret warble as opposed to Cohen’s hushed whisper.
That cabaret mood extends to the album’s closing track, strings and harp colouring Harcourt’s piano arrangement for a spectral, gloom-enrobed reading of Hoagy Carmichael evergreen, I Get Along Without You Very Well that, in its spare, echoey ambience conjures images of her singing in some faded, darkened and deserted club as the last two lonely souls slow dance across the well-worn floor before Utley’s haunted guitar shatters the remaining lights.
Some, Faithfull included, reckon it’s actually better than Broken English, others, myself included, may disagree, seeing it as a close call runner-up, but, either way, it’s a reminder of her flawed but charismatic talent and, quite possibly, the album to deliver her first Top 40 placing since 1965.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released on Dramatico Entertainment – Out Now
Order via Amazon