Marianne. Ah yes, symbol of womanhood to our Gallic friends, but stick ‘Faithfull’ on the end and you conjure up different images; ’60s icon, legend, Stones WAG, fashion inspiration for Kate Moss, smack and breast cancer survivor, oh and subject of the infamous mars bar tale from Rock Babylon. Now on her 23rd record, Marianne Faithfull’s discography is nothing to balk at even if it isn’t always synonymous with her legendary name. First off is the voice – a schizophrenic clash of 40-a-day harshness and sultry depth, Faithfull’s vocal has developed a more regal, authoritative quality. As a lady with a permanent pass on life’s rollercoaster, there’s something omniscient about her rustling vocals warning “I hear the rapture’s coming.”
Meanwhile – your ears do not deceive you – the title track pays homage to her time in Dublin (“I lived in a flat in Ballsbridge”) and the song itself is a wistful, well-spun tale. The mix of covers and self-penned numbers is seamless and for the most part conveys her experience perfectly. On the flipside, ‘Gee Baby’ sits on the wrong side of cheesy and the only thing tying it to the rest of the record is the distinctive voice cooing the cheesecake lyrics.
There’s no ‘Sister Morphine’ here, but this really is no bad thing. With Lou Reed, Brother Wayne Kramer from The MC5 and Dr John in supporting roles, Faithfull has pulled off her best album in years. Although the covers are touching, beautiful and given the Marianne makeover, the only minor complaint is we could do with more originals like ‘Why Did We Have to Part’. If you’re tempted to sing ‘So Long Marianne’, zip it. She might admit “I can’t go on forever” on ‘No Reasons’ but Faithfull ain’t finished with us yet and, judging from this record, her sublime swansong is yet to come.