Faithfull has called in some powerful friends to co-write; Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Damon Albarn for the record. She's even got Will Self to write the sleeve notes.
Recently I heard a radio interview with Marianne Faithfull, during the course of which she complained that unless people started to take her muse seriously, she'd quit making records. Which is rather startling, I'm sure you'd agree. It would also be a crying shame, because this is a cracker, a true heavyweight, worthy of comparison with her masterpiece Broken English.
Before the Poison is a stark, almost Gothic record (that's early nineteenth century Gothic kids, the Gothic of Byron and Shelley; not the other sort). The brilliant cover sets the tone. It depicts Faithfull sat upright with arms flung wide. There is a girl lying on her lap. If anything our Marianne holds a pose reminiscent of Mary Magdalene (and I'm sure she means this). In any case it's bloody arresting and powerful as an image. I suppose it needs to be as the music on the record packs a hell of a punch. Faithfull has called in some powerful friends to co-write; Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Damon Albarn for the record. She's even got Will Self to write the sleeve notes. (Actually at this point I cant help quoting one of Self's more ridiculous statements; "Tuesday afternoon slumps over its fat belly of ennui"...eh?). So, to conclude, there's a lot riding on Before the Poison. Either you take Marianne seriously, or she's off for good.
Okay, time to describe the music. The Mystery of Love is all cracked vocals and broodily plucked guitar. Faithfull intones "the mystery of love belongs to you" as if it is a command. This is really going for the throat emotionally, and made all the more powerful as the music creates an acoustic cage in which the singer seems trapped in. Off the song mumbles to another village, a packed up and portable Miracle play.
My Friends Have grinds along to a drunken, surly sub-Troggs riff. A snarling delivery seems totally at odds with the lyrics. Take the following.
"My friends have always been there
To help me shape my crooked features
My friends have picked me up again
And pushed my enemies out of the picture"
These are sung in such an embittered way, that you have to wonder whether Faithful is being a tad cynical. In any case, on it grumbles, rolling menacingly on like a stone wheeled Flintstones car.
Crazy Love is a softer affair and finds our chanteuse in a more wistful mood. The song is delivered in a breathier, more wistful way, with only piano and violin for company. You can imagine her sat over looking the Seine from a distempered room. Last Song starts off in a melancholy way. A slow build up allows a beautiful pastoral backdrop to emerge, very reminiscent of Nick Drake. Suddenly the song vanishes into the mist, before you know it. Beautiful. No Child of Mine is a muted affair with guitar and piano once again being the main protagonists in a haunting backdrop. The lyrics are incredibly powerful. Just take a look at this.
"I have no time for hate or love
Hey child you're so full of woe
I have no time for hate or lying
Hey child you're no child of mine"
Before the Poison is a cracked primitive Stone Age death dirge with Marianne adopting the role of crone, muttering abstractly to herself. There is a Ghost is a winter walk through moorland. Faithfull now adopts the role of moody chanteuse, draped in black shawl. The music is, as elsewhere, quiet, dramatic and poignant to the nth degree. In the Factory returns to the tone of My Friends Have. Wherever there's a hint of the music breaking into something more windswept, Faithfull pulls it rigorously into line. Sometimes on this album you get the feeling that the story telling is paramount and musical excursions can be seen as an afterthought.
Desperanto, by total contrast, kicks off its boots and gets down. A hilarious cod chorus, guitar and organ give added thump. The lyrical delivery is a brilliant send up of Neil Tennant's vocals on West End Girls. Actually a scary, and oddly believable send up if you're asking. God knows where this track came from. It's the joker in the pack, blowing away the existentialist remove of the rest of the album.
The last track, City of Quartz sounds like a bastardized version of the Mary Poppins soundtrack, or at the very least a wacky take on a long lost Noel Coward ditty. Faithfull comes across like a demented and sinster aunt, looking after the children while mum and dad go to the chippy. Brilliant, witty, and slightly touched.
Well... If, on this showing, Marianne Faithfull does decide to quit the music biz, it'll be a crying shame. Top artist, methinks. AND I pride myself on the fact that I was so taken with this album that I got through it without mentioning anything of Ms. F's past indiscretions. Noble of me, huh?