“Broken English” by Marianne Faithfull - album review

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TJR says

The sixth album from the 32-year-old singer-songwriter arrrived in November, 1979, and what an achievement it was, given her incredible back-story. Quite literally, she rose from a near-death lifestyle, broke, homeless and addicted to drugs. Eventually, she got it together again, and “Broken English” marked the rebirth, a re-invention in every which way possible. She had recently married Ben Brierly of The Vibrators, and this went some way to steering her away from her previous folk and country inclinations. Chris Blackwell saw potential in her late 70s demos and signed her to Island. The main credit for the moody new wave vibe of the music lies with producer Mark Miller Mundy, who had been working with Steve Winwood lately, the former Spencer Davis Group and Traffic man was duly drafted in on keyboards. It was a relief to Marianne that she connected with Mundy: “I don't think I could have handled Broken English without a producer. You can't imagine what it was like. There I am with no respect at all within the music business… so I found somebody who wanted the break, and that was Mark Mundy. He wanted to be a record producer, and he had some great ideas.

It's the title-track which opens the set, as terrorist groups such as Germany's Red Army Faction come under the spotlight: “what are you dying for, what are you fighting for?”. Her voice may now be life-ravaged, but this actually serves as a major positive, for the sweetness and light brigade are ten-a-penny, are they not? Another attractive feature of the LP is the willingness to engage in a range of musical styles, whilst retaining a cohesive vibe on the whole. The new wave starter on side one is followed by “Witches’ Song” (Americana), “Brain Drain” (Blues Rocker) and “Guilt” (Soft Rocker). For me, it's side two which provides the edginess and vitality, beginning with a cool cover of “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan” (Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, 1975) which describes the “disillusionment and mental deterioration of a suburban housewife, who climbs to a rooftop 'when the laughter grew too loud'”. Marianne feels this song; I get the impression she recognises herself in it too. As if apologizing, “What’s The Hurry” seems like a pop concession, before a terrific cover of “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon, 1970) recovers the scorecard as she interprets with intuitive flair.

Personal politics are to the fore on the album's reggae-esque closer “Why D’Ya Do It”, with a set of lyrics which don't hold back. Hell hath no fury like the lover scorned, and Marianne dug deep into her own real-life experiences; this brutal, seething rap is authentic. “'Why'd you do it?', she said. Why'd you let that trash get a hold of your cock get stoned on my hash?' … 'Why'd you do it', she said. 'Why'd you spit on my snatch? Are we out of love now is this just a bad patch?'”. Was Lydia Lunch listening in!?! Marianne gave this set all she had, and was rewarded with career-turning critical acclaim, not to mention some much needed financial relief, with sales across European territories being particularly strong. She never looked back from here.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:45] 6.2.png Marianne Faithfull - Broken English (Marianne Faithfull, Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety, Steve York, Terry Stannard) New Wave
A2 [04:43] 5.1.png Marianne Faithfull - Witches’ Song (Marianne Faithfull, Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety, Steve York, Terry Stannard) Folk Rock / Americana
A3 [04:13] 5.4.png Marianne Faithfull - Brain Drain (Ben Brierley) Blues Rock / Soul Rock
A4 [05:05] 6.0.png Marianne Faithfull - Guilt (Barry Reynolds) Soft Rock / A.O.R.
B1 [04:09] 6.3.png Marianne Faithfull - The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan (Shel Silverstein) Cerebral Pop
B2 [03:05] 4.3.png Marianne Faithfull - What’s The Hurry (Joe Mavety) Pop
B3 [04:40] 7.4.png Marianne Faithfull - Working Class Hero (John Lennon) Post-Punk
B4 [06:45] 7.2.png Marianne Faithfull - Why D’Ya Do It (Marianne Faithfull, Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety, Steve York, Terry Stannard, Heathcote Williams) Dubbeat

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