Broken English by Marianne Faithfull (Album Review)

Review of Marianne Faithfull ‘Broken English’ (Deluxe Edition)

For anyone who hasn’t yet sent their Christmas list to Santa – here are two items to put on the list: a good pair of headphones and some cash. Don’t spend that cash, and when the January Sales kick off don’t be tempted to buy that ill-fitting jumper from Next that no-one wanted before Christmas – hang in there. Why? Because on January 28th a very special album is going to be released by UMC/Island – Marianne Faithfull’s definitive album ‘Broken English’ is reissued in a luxury package that includes not only the eight tracks on the original album released in 1979, but also the original ‘lost’ band sessions recording, a whole pile of bonus tracks and the Derek Jarman directed short film of ‘Witches Song’, ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ and ‘Broken English’.

Review of Marianne Faithfull Broken English

Review of Marianne Faithfull Broken English 1979 Album

My Christmas came early when I was given a copy of this album to review. The iconic cover with the striking Dennis Morris photograph of the femme fatale that adorns the cover, glazed over in blue with a dot of burning ash at the end of the cigarette, shows the intense, anguished, world-weary side of Marianne Faithfull that would come to light on the brief eight tracks contained within. Put on the headphones and listen to the original eight tracks and they sound better than ever. You are swept into a gritty post punk London period where the times really were a changing. A much more hard hitting and meaningful stack of songs than her 1964 hit ‘As Tears Go By’. Listen to the lyrics: “I never lied to my lover/But if I did I would admit it/If I could get away with murder/I’d take my gun and I’d commit it” (‘Guilt’); “You go on and on/Like a blood stain” (‘Brain Drain’) or “Do you feel the panic?/ Can you see the fear?” (‘Witches’ Tune’). This is a long way from the more submissive approach of the 60’s. Sung in a cracked, unwavering voice, enclosed by smooth, throbbingly modern music, the songs on ‘Broken English’ get under your skin and every track is a killer.

There are many influences to this fine album. The songs on ‘Broken English’ are clearly rooted in Marianne’s own experience: ‘Broken English’ itself came from a book on the Bader-Meinhof terrorists, and had real currency at the time when bombs were exploding all over the world, whether set off by the IRA, Basque separatists or the Red Brigade. For Marianne ‘Witches Song’ was “my version of the sisterhood… my ode to the wild, pagan women I know and have always had around me”. Marianne and the-husband Ben Brierly (of the punk band the Vibrators and another influence) had befriended the songwriter Tim Hardin and the resultant Brierly/Hardin collaboration on ‘Broken English’ was the pounding ‘Brain Drain’ (my own favourite track). ‘Guilt’ was Barry Reynold’s song about addiction and Marianne’s catholic education. But if ‘Guilt’ was about addiction then ‘Whats the Hurry?’ was about the junkies endless need to score. At the time critics expressed surprise at Marianne recording John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ , but she justified her choice by saying “I wasn’t working class, but we were poor and this process he describes, it happens to everybody”.
For Marianne ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ “is me if my life had taken a different turn” and on hearing ‘Why D’Ya Do It’ Marianne immediately recognised that the shocking words echoed her own “heartrending turmoil and seething jealousy”. Even today the lyrics shock and this is what makes this album gold for me the cracked voice singing such great lyrics. EMI initially refused to distribute the album and in Australia the album had to be pressed without Why D’Ya Do It’.

If I still haven’t persuaded you to part with your Christmas cash then let me go on to tell you more about this two CD album. Its so full of other goodies: Avante-garde filmmaker Derek Jarman’s short film of three songs: ‘Witches Song’, ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ and ‘Broken English’. The film was initially shown in cinemas before the main feature and this is the first commercial release on this two disc set. The film is infused with the punk aesthetic that Jarman brought to some of his earlier films and is infused with the dark and lonely music that Marianne sings.

Then you get all eight tracks again from the original studio mix for ‘Broken English’. On some tracks the differences from the re-mastered version are less distinct but definitely worth a listen.

Also included is Marianne’s co-write with the Rolling Stones ‘Sister Morphine’, a song that she had first released back in 1969 but re-recorded for a special Island 20th Anniversary 7” and 12” release of ‘Broken English’ in 1982.

If that wasn’t enough and having already heard / seen ‘Broken English’ performed three times – you also get ‘Broken English’ 7” single, a 7” remix and a 12” remix. There is also a 12” remix of ‘Why D’Ya Do It?’

This is the definitive music set from Marianne – forget her earlier and later music – this is what you will want to here again and again. The music is as relevant today as it was at the time. So – if you want a great album to add to your music collection over the next couple of months this is the one to go for … you just need to hold fast with the Christmas cash until January 28th.

Review by Doug Duffin

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