I just finished reading the book The Surrender by Toni Bentley, an erotic memoir on the author’s coming-of-age journey and sensual search for the “third heaven.” What I found fascinating about Bentley, besides her addicting prose was how brave she was for exposing herself in such a manner. I guess that’s why the older I get, the more I find the alluring intelligence and the courageous voice in strong creative women so attractive to me. It’s inspiring. I believe that these are the traits that you could best describe the music of Marianne Faithfull. She’s honest, strong with a distinct and sexy voice of a chanteuse that draws you into to her world of heartbreak and eternal wonder.
Welcome to the world of Before the Poison, one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums you will hear this year. This is Faithfull’s best album in ages, though I do love the 21st Century complexities of her previous effort Kissin’ Time—that record was a sort of reintroducing Faithfull to a post modern audience. It was a stellar record but not her best. What makes Before the Poison a better record because it reflects the true melancholy persona that is Marianne Faithfull.
Kissin’ Time suffered from artists like Billy Corgan and Beck trying to put their signature on her voice and sounded like Marianne Faithfull guest-starring on her own album. It sounds cool but that’s not the woman that I love. Before the Poison has more collaborations with PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn and Jon Brion but this time around they complement her voice, resulting in what sounds like the ultimate Marianne Faithfull album.
The highlights are Faithfull’s collaboration’s with Polly Jean Harvey. They were made to work together and the results prove this; I love the way you hear Harvey and Faithfull trading vocals on “My Friends Have.” Hearing two generation of female artists join in unison is powerful magic to my ears. All of PJ’s contributions are the albums best—especially “No Child of Mine,” as previewed on Harvey’ Uh Huh Her CD. But this version bests Polly Jean’s, it sounds like it was meant to be sung by Faithfull. When she sings “every man that I have ever loved/has been a child and fatherless…” you feel as if Faithfull is singing about her own love life.
Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds make an appearance on three tracks, the best being “Crazy Love” which highlights the violin strings of Warren Ellis. I still believe that Ellis is the star of the Bad Seeds, as he plays the bow so eerily like John Cale did for the Velvet Underground. It actually sounds like Ellis’ violin is performing a duet with Faithfull’s voice, as his strings augment her voice of heartbreak. Which brings me to my only complaint about Before the Poison— I would have loved to hear a Faithfull song with Nick Cave. Oh well, at least Ellis holds his own in her vocal company.
I also loved the stripped-down sound of the Damon Albarn penned “Last song;” which is basically Faithfull singing to only the strummings of Portishead’s Adrian Utley’s acoustic guitar. Jon Brion’s song “City of Quartz” closes the album with a song of loss of innocence that is sung with such intimate longing that can only be expressed by Marianne Faithfull.
If you are looking for an album with a scope of beauty and darkness that will have you on the edge of tears and joy in the same song, then Before the Poison is for you. Marianne Faithfull is finally back with an album that is worthy of her name and musical legacy.
PJ Harvey – Is This Desire
Nick Cave – The Good Son
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man