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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Marianne Faithfull : Broken English back bigger and better than ever

Always been a sucker for songbirds with lived-in voices, ever since seeing Maggie Bell back in the day.

Since then I’ve been seduced by Mary Gauthier, Lucinda Williams and, lately, Gin Wigmore. But no-one comes close to Marianne.

And to Broken English in particular, the 1979 album which made us sit up and take notice again, re-establishing Faithfull’s credibility.

After a string of mediocre country-informed LPs, this mix of rock, punk and electronics, capped off by a wrecked vocal, was electrifying.

Now celebrating its 33 and a third birthday (the revolutions per minute at which vinyl long players used to spin, if you’re too young to remember), Broken English is back.

A Deluxe Edition double-CD comprises the original album, three songs on video, the original mixes – which had long been thought lost – and a handful of bonus tracks, too.

This was Marianne as she battled back from years of drink, drugs and disappointment, her voice ravaged by cocaine and laryngitis. She was angry at life, bitter about false friends.

And, boy, did it show.

The incandescent fury contained in brutal album closer Why’d Ya Do It, about betrayal by a lover, was so heated that EMI refused to handle it.

In some countries, the album had to be released without the song, which still seethes with jealousy and hurt all these years later.

The title track, inspired by the Baader-Meinhof terrorist attacks of the era, but rooted in her own experiences, sets out startling stall. Witches’ Song, Marianne’s version of the feminist sisterhood, eases up a little then Brain Drain rocks things up again.

The chilling Guilt revisits her Catholic upbringing and drug addiction, and What’s The Hurry? may sound like the pop-tempered rock of the time, but turns out to be about the junkie’s endless need to score.

The show-stealers are two unlikely covers. Dr Hook’s The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan is a heart-rending tale of regret which sounds light years removed from the original.

And John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, set in a chugging synth riff reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s One Of These Days, wears a knowing sneer still worthy of 21st century Broken Britain.

Add a bonus 12-inch mix of Sister Morphine, and this is an absolute essential.

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