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Album Review: Marianne Faithfull — Negative Capability


Marianne Faithfull — Negative Capability

(BMG) ★★★★★

FEW voices have ever sounded quite so lived-in as Marianne Faithfull’s during the second phase of her recording career. And with good reason: the low, cracked drawl with which the former 1960s starlet redefined herself on her great comeback album Broken English (1979) had been inflicted on her by an equally broken life.

That voice, uniquely suited to songs of hurt and damage, of rage and desolation, became her trademark and, in time, her fortune.

That was nearly four decades and more than a dozen albums ago. Nowadays, we have learned what to expect: substantial, dramatic records made with admiring and celebrated collaborators. On this album, Faithfull has called on Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan, as well as co-songwriter Ed Harcourt, and Cave’s uniquely gifted fellow Bad Seed, Warren Ellis.

The album is startling for its candour. Not even an ingénue could write or sing with the vulnerability or frailty 71-year-old Faithfull conveys, her distinctive rasp more fragile than confrontational. She faces pain, loss, and death with extraordinary directness. The emotional nakedness is transfixing and unnerving.

At times, it feels she is singing her own requiem. At others, she is serene, reflective, embracing simple and hard-won wisdom. Negative Capability is astonishing. Its beauty lies in its frankness and in its wavering imperfection; a more polished performance from Faithfull would be much less powerful. It is not always easy to hear, but it is impossible to turn away from.