Listen Up: Wednesday, April 20, 2005
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Marianne Faithfull

Before the Poison (Anti Records)

By Jimmy Fowler

Rock ‘n’ roll tends to reward so-called “survivors” for their dumb luck in not perishing from that last skag fix, gulp of liquor, snort of meth, etc., so long as they still display a shred of their junkie inspiration and maintain the illusion that nearly killing themselves with chemicals was really worth the glamorous funland of addiction. The 58-year-old ex-London scenester and self-declared erstwhile “teen pop princess” Marianne Faithfull is a curious exception to this party-hard-by-proxy ethos for two reasons: first, because she has displayed more talent in her late-stage addiction/post-recovery recordings than she did in the throes of heroin and booze, and second because she has wittily conveyed her junkie days as a rather grueling waste of time. To those who’ve cherished Faithfull’s metamorphosis into a Dietrich-ish interpreter of Brecht/Weill, the Billie Holliday songbook, and Tom Waits, the new Before the Poison serves as a startling reminder that her oddly compassionate croak and flair for melodramatic phrasing sound perfectly at home with the right young composers. Over her entire four-decade career, Faithfull has never found a songwriter more “right” (including Jagger) than the beautifully bipolar PJ Harvey, who’s a full collaborator on Poison (along with Nick Cave) as co-writer, co-producer, and back-up vocalist. The remarkable “My Friends Have” follows the brassy high strut of Harvey’s rhythm guitar as Faithfull boasts about all the people who’ve offered her “many mountains I can breathe on” and “many caves I can live in.” “Last Song” is an eloquent Anglo-folk marriage of acoustic guitar, long piano bridges, and the singer’s frayed wistfulness. “City of Quartz” has Faithfull cooing like someone’s crazy auntie to the icy tinkling of a music-box lullaby. Longtime Faithfull associate Hal Willner is perhaps responsible for the veneer of production polish on these 12 tunes, never allowing the vocalist to wallow in funked-out sonic excesses that never suited her to begin with. She returns the favor by sounding lighter, more thoughtful, and, unbelievably, sweeter and more hopeful than you thought possible. — Jimmy Fowler


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