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Marianne Faithfull - Horses and High Heels

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Artist: Marianne Faithfull

Album: Horses and High Heels

Label: Dramatico

Review date: Jul. 13, 2011

For all the hushed, reverent tones of the faithful, Ms. Faithfull really only has one great record — 1979’s Broken English. Harsher critics may go so far to contend that “As Tears Go By” is her lone good song. And it was written by Jagger/Richards. (To be fair, Mick did owe her one for yanking “Sister Morphine” right out from under their bear skin rug.) Furthermore, Faithfull’s re-cried those tears so many times since, there’s hardly a definitive recording of their fall. And yet, as the time has gone by, this rock ‘n’ roll sex doll has proven herself tougher than the very blows she’s dealt. As a contessa to the inventor of sado-masochism himself, Severin’s von Sacher-Masoch, it’s almost poetic her many struggles with addiction, food, homelessness, sexuality, motherhood, etc. ad inf.

She’s certainly not helping herself here, her 19th solo disc. Look no further than the atrocious album art. It looks akin to one of her ‘60s hallucinations at Brian Jones and Anita Pallenberg’s flat, filtered through the schlock of a Thomas Kinkade print. Moreover, the mostly covers therein offer no redemption. Marianne Faithfull’s millennial reincarnation as some Great American Songstress — courtesy of foreigners like Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and Étienne Daho — never struck me as anything more than bloody, hipster chum. In particular, the gutter opener of Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan’s “The Stations” speaks soundly as to why her Hapsburg-on-Hampstead hauteur has lent so few American ears. Faithfull’s tepid telling of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” has me longing for the queerer Dusty Springfield’s. Likewise, the ode to Beethoven in “Past, Present and Future” by The Shangri-Las reminds me only of what I’m not hearing. And her patois reading of Allen Toussaint’s "Back in Baby’s Arms" ultimately begs why Hal Willner bothered to bring her to New Orleans at all. In retrospect, Bonnie “Prince” Billy was right to refuse her rights to his “A King at Night.”

But then there are the four originals here on Horses and High Heels. And for my dope money at least, they count among the highest songs she’s had since getting off the stuff some 20 years ago. The Celtic cross-talk of “Eternity,” co-written with Doug Pettibone, feels almost vital by comparison. As long as she’s alive, life will probably always be tough for someone of Faithfull’s fame. Resigned to that fact now, she’s trying here to "live within a space that’s moving all the time.” Bolstered by a beat borrowed wholesale from Jones’ own celebrated Joujouka recordings, perhaps she’s merely confusing space with time — as she’s done with love and sex by the tearful. It’s hard to find a downbeat in Gysin’s Morocco, but again, I think that’s rather fitting for the overall metaphor that is, and forever shall be, Miss Marianne.

By Logan K. Young

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