Monday, April 1, 2013
Marianne Faithfull - Marianne Faithfull
London LL 3423
I was watching Jean-Luc Godard's film "Made in U.S.A." the other day and I was surprised to see Marianne Faithfull appear in the lengthy bar scene where she sings an a cappella version of her big hit "As Tears Go By." I was surprised because I've seen the film before and somehow failed to remember that she was in it and also because I read her autobiography last year and she made no mention of the film at all. I worship Godard so I find it somewhat shocking that she ignored him while describing every junkie she ever hung out with - it is a very candid book. I learned a lot reading it. I always figured she was some sweet innocent schoolgirl led into a life of vice by Mick Jagger, but she claims just the opposite. She presents herself as being a lot more decadent than him and seems to take pride in her prodigious drug abuse. It is not a pleasant book to read, but it is quite compelling. She makes mostly disparaging remarks about her early music career, which I understand, she was largely a puppet being manipulated by managers and producers, but I like those early records that she is so dismissive of. This was her debut record in the United States. It is a mix of pop and folk-pop with a chamber pop flavor. It features 3 top 40 singles, "As Tears Go By," "This Little Bird" and "Come and Stay With Me." "As Tears Go By" was the earliest, recorded when she was 17 years old. It was written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Andrew Loog Oldham. I've always thought the song was kind of phony, full of fake worldliness that sounds particularly ridiculous coming from a teenager. The song is overproduced as well, I prefer the a cappella version in the movie. There is also a superior version that she recorded in 1966 for the B.B.C. (available on her CD "Live at the BBC.") I still prefer her original version to the one recorded by the Rolling Stones however, Jagger sounds even phonier singing it. Jackie DeShannon wrote "Come and Stay With Me" which is my favorite song on the record, perhaps my favorite song of her entire career. It is catchy folk-pop that is enhanced by the plaintive quality of Faithfull's voice. Her vocal really sends me. In association with Jimmy Page, DeShannon also contributed "In My Time of Sorrow" which is another one of the best songs on the record. "This Little Bird" is a lovely song by John D. Loudermilk which has a wistful quality that suits Faithfull's girlish voice quite well. That is not the case with her chamber-pop cover of the Beatles' "I'm a Loser" which sounds strained and unconvincing. I like her version of Malvina Reynolds' protest song "What Have They Done to the Rain" better than Joan Baez's version on "Joan Baez In Concert Part 1" but it is also unconvincing, she sings it too delicately. Bacharach/David's "If I Never Get To Love You" suggests that gentle, romantic pop was her real forte, I find her vocal on it very effective. This is especially true of her stunning version of David Whitaker's "Plaisir d'Amour." The song is kind of corny but right in her wheelhouse, she sings it with so much emotion that she knocks it out of the park. It is my second favorite song on the album. She also does extremely well with two other pop songs, the lovely "He'll Come Back To Me" by Mike Leander, Claude-Henri Vic and Robert Gall (father of my big fave, France Gall) and "Paris Bells" by Jon Michael Burchell (who played guitar for Faithfull under the name Jon Mark and later formed the group Mark-Almond.) Both these songs suit her voice and style perfectly and she delivers them with considerable feeling. Faithfull wrote one song on the album (in collaboration with Barry Fantoni) "Time Takes Time." The song is kind of melodramatic and pretentious but it is more interesting than most of the songs on this album. Unfortunately it is a bit outside of Faithfull's range, it needs a stronger singer. I still like it though. I imagine some modern listeners will find this record sappy and old-fashioned. I'm not all that happy with some of the arrangements, but I think the songs are well-chosen and I appreciate the sensitivity that Faithfull brings to her interpretations. Fans of her more recent work who are accustomed to her ravaged rasp of a voice will hardly recognize the angelic, girlish voice she had at the beginning of her career. Her latter day work is certainly more personal and satisfying than her early pop songs, but when you compare her to her peers in mid-1960s Anglo-American pop, I think she comes off quite well. I've listened to this album a lot through the years and I still find it very engaging. Recommended to fans of Mary Hopkin.