Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 15 - Broken English

Top 102 Albums Minus 15
Broken English - Marianne Faithfull

A few weeks back, watching Later with Jools Holland I was delighted to see Marianne Faithfull appear and since then I have been listening regularly to Broken English, her coruscating and quite brilliant album from 1979. It brings together her sixties credentials with songs from John Lennon (Working Class Hero) and a song from underground provocateur Heathcote Williams (Why'd Ya Do It) and a sound that owes more to Giorgio Moroder than the folk and country stylings of her earlier work.

The album fitted perfectly into the times when it was released, with a post-punk sound and an sense of general malaise that reflected the times. (Indeed when isn't there a sense of general malaise, which makes this timeless.) The harsh rasp which had replaced her earlier breathy innocence give the songs a sense that they have been lived in, and that the singer has seen a lot of tears and much else besides go by. Opening song Broken English seems to encapsulate a world that is falling apart, a world that language is insufficient for.

The first side ends with Guilt, a song that seems to have erupted from the heart of an Irish catholic upbringing "I feel guilt, I feel guilt/ Though I ain't done nothing wrong I feel guilt"

Side 2 opens with the album's most recognisable track, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, which was  minor hit in the UK, scraping into the top 50, although it sold much better across Europe. It's a tale of suburban madness, as Lucy realises that "she'd never / Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair" and is finally taken away by the men with white coats to a place where she can shape reality to whatever she wants it to be.

A highlight of the album is her version of John Lennon's Working Class Hero. Driven by a pulsing, percussive bass, Faithfull sings with an edge of despair rather than Lennon's more righteous anger. Perhaps the confusion of aristocratic roots and often poor circumstances that defined her childhood are drawn on here.

The album ends with the iconoclastic Why'd Ya Do It?, where Marianne gives free range to a sneering jealous rage. Apparently Heathcote Willams wrote this for Tina Turner and Marianne convinced him that TT would never record it.

She was probably right and whatever Tina Turner's strengths (and they are many) I don't think anyone else could have put quite so much venom into some of the lines. It's a great performance, if more than slightly unnerving. The unfaithful partner tries at first to defend himself but gives up under a torrent of rage and sarcasm.

"Why'd ya do it she said, why'd you let her suck your cock?
Oh, do me a favor, don't put me in the dock
Why'd ya do it, she said, they're mine, all your jewels,
You just tied me to the mast of the ship of fools

Why'd ya do it, she said, when you know it makes me sore,
Cause she had cobwebs up her fanny and I believe in giving to the poor
Why'd ya do it, she said, why'd you spit on my snatch?
Are we out of love now, is this just a bad patch?"

Marianne seems to be channelling her Sacher-Masoch genes while creating a modern twist on Weimar cabaret. A great, if despairing, record.


  1. I never really got into Faithfull, Séamus, but boy do the two tracks I listened to take me back. To give you an idea, I think Hemingway & Fitzgerald might have been my favorite novelists this far back in time--I was so innocent! Thanks for sharing this, though: I think the old man might me might appreciate this more than the kid that was listening to the Jam and the Clash and the Undertones way back then. Loved your line about malaise, by the way--so true.

    1. Cheers Richard. She certainly wasn't as full of youthful exuberance as The Jam/Clash/Undertones. It's a record full of hard won experience. I would have been into Hemmingway at the time also! There were copies of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms on the bookshelves at home and I can still remember being mightily impressed by them, as a young teen.

  2. I think that when you and Richard were lauding Ernest and Scott I was lumping my way through Lord of the Rings...
    I saw Marianne on Later and thought it was a great performance; the excellent Ed Harcourt bolstering on piano; she always did keep good 'bad' company.

    1. That's a good way to put it Trevor!

      I thought you were referencing Shackleton and Scott of the Antarctic for a second - confused!

  3. "Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over."
    Currently wearing that t shirt.
    There's surely another album in the offing...