The list of musicians who make engaged, relevant music after 50 years in the business is, I think we’d all agree, pretty short. Marianne Faithfull secures her place on that list with her latest album, Give My Love to London.
I’ll assume you know Faithfull’s story, which is far better chronicled than her remarkable discography. Give My Love to London extends her post-millenium period as a singular interpreter of new and old songs by iconoclastic songwriters like Nick Cave, Roger Waters, PJ Harvey, and Leonard Cohen. Like Cohen or Tom Waits, her closest peers in generational authority and vocal gravitas, in this period Faithfull has profitably mined a vein of melancholy, world-weary music that conveys more emotional connection and hard-earned insight than the great bulk of this year’s buzzmakers.
Wistfulness, remorse, and righteous anger might seem to come easily at age 67, but Faithfull brings a unique sensitivity, not to mention that voice — her weathered, husky alto that resulted from an accelerated descent into hard living and ill health — to render these sentiments universal. Crucially, there’s fine music here to support Faithfull’s interpretations. A cast of collaborators (including Portishead’s Adrian Utley, PJ Harvey colleague Rob Ellis, Brian Eno and a couple of Bad Seeds) shift moods easily from drawing-room stillness to postmodern blues. Her latest co-writers, Steve Earle and Anna Calvi, provide a respective contrast of boozy folk-rock and technicolor torchiness to underline the musical range of Give My Love to London.
If you’ve made it this far and still don’t know Faithfull’s story — or, like me, you simply enjoy revisiting its iconic melodrama — then direct your attention to her new coffeetable book of photography. Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record gathers images from Faithfull’s personal collection, media clippings, and publicity shoots; her handwritten notes offer context and response. Not for nothing does she remain the icon of late-60s Swinging London, whose aristocratic beauty has endured from her bohemian youth to the nicotine-stained present. You’ll have to consult her autobiographies to get the fullest picture, since no pictures were ever taken inside the Redlands estate and London squat where Faithfull’s life turned its most dramatic pages. But for a moving journey through a British life of pop celebrity, evolving fashions, and vindication by survival, A Life on Record makes for a fascinating read.
Photo from Marianne Faithfull's personal collection courtesy of Rizzoli
Give My Love to London comes out in North America on November 11 on Easy Sound.
Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record (Rizzoli) hits bookstores on November 4.