Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, March 04, 2005
      ( 3/04/2005 04:35:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"DESPERANTO IS SPOKEN HERE" – Of all the rock 'n' roll survivors who sporadically revisit the studio to crank out a new disc, Marianne Faithfull has been one of the most entertainingly uncompromising. Ever since 1979's Broken English officially proclaimed the former sweet-voiced songbird's transformation into gravelly-voiced world-weary chanteuse, Faithfull has periodically emerged with a new release of bracingly clear-eyed art-pop. Listening to her newest, Before the Poison (Naïve), can't help but serve as a standing condemnation to all the namby-pamby rock 'n' roll suicides who've passed over the years. Just hear that cracked and craggy voice as she ruefully notes the perils of "Crazy Love," and you know that time has neither tempered nor defeated this most adult of singers – if anything it's added mournful resonance to her work.

As a singer and occasional lyric writer (as opposed to a full-blown songwriter), Faithfull rises and falls with the inventiveness of her collaborators. And with the likes of P.J. Harvey and Nick Cave (with spry guest shots by Damon Albarn and Jon Brion) providing strong musical support to her mournful lyrics this time out, Poison is definitely one of the high points. A meditation on the bonds of lover, friend & family, the disc may be less immediately walloping than English – call it alt-folk-cabaret, perhaps – but its dazzling music sticks with you.

To these ears, the instant keepers include Albarn's "Last Song" (why couldn't he have come up with something this gorgeous for Think Tank?), an ambivalent lament over the loss of village greens that Ray Davies would've killed to come up with; Harvey's "My Friends Have," a moaning mid-tempo catalog with a smart bassline and banshee backing vocals courtesy of Miz Polly Jean; her "No Child of Mine," a spoken verse lament ("Every man I've ever loved has been a child!") with two infectious choruses, plus Faithful & Cave's "Desperanto," which startles you with its squawnking sax and throbbing organ riffs after the trio of more subdued reflective pieces that preceded it (including the title song) but quickly establishes itself as the disc's old-fashioned Patti Smith-styled rocker. The rest of the disc takes a little longer to seep in, but once it does, you feel you've known these songs for ages: heard, perhaps, over a decade ago - when you woke up nervous in the middle of the night to worry about where your life's going.

You know, just the fact that this album exists makes me feel good. That it sounds as great as it does makes me out-and-out optimistic. . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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