At 67 years old Marianne Faithful returns with a cane (after suffering a broken hip in a fall) and a song co-written with Anna Calvi performing together with band live on Jools Holland’s Later. Contributions to her new album, Give My Love To London include, Roger Waters, Nick Cave, Ed Harcourt, Leonard Cohen, Steve Earle, Eno, Tom McRae, Ben Christophers and producers Andy Hughes, Rob Ellis, Dimitri Tikovoï and longtime Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard – icons and their famous friends.
Despite such a large cast of talent the album struggles to live up to its star studded billing. When Faithful returned in 1979 after homelessness and terrible drug addiction you could live her songs with her through her shattered voice – fame, fortune, despair, you could smell the cigarettes on her breath, see the darkness in her eyes, the capitulation and the recovery. She was older than her days – but now she sounds like she can’t recapture either the zest or the grimey reality of her lot. There’s something about the words and how she delivers them – like she can’t really find the magic anymore and in her singing she has the after whistle of the aged.
It’s like her story doesn’t come across well, possibly because there’s just too many people involved, Sparrows Will Sing isn’t just written with Roger Waters, it’s a six way collaboration stealing a Velvet Underground feel and chord sequence relying way too much on who she is and not enough on musical reinvention. How all these people could have contributed to this simplicity remains more of a mystery than a lyric that doesn’t really transport you to its proposed destination.
Throughout the album she attempts to tell us about her life via a loose concept name checking different pages of London’s A-Z but without the romance, without the sepia toned teary images – it’s like a biography without an editor, a film without a director, an album without a producer. A reworking of The Everly Brothers’ The Price of Love seems pointless.
Calvi returns in the credits for the album’s best track, Falling Back and I hear her in the song with her finely tuned sense of fractured romance. She creates a dramatic musical theme and shows her ability to sell the message as emotion through her melodies. Throughout most of the album’s other songs Faithful doesn’t manage to sound in command of the play she is in, even though it is her own life – the light picks her out on the stage but she doesn’t seem to make the audience love her playing herself – or even believe her.
One soon realises that Kylie Minogue did a better job with a Nick Cave collaboration than Faithful has with Deep Water, their co-write here. Surprisingly towards the end of the album the bile spits itself out on Mother Wolf with a better lyric, a better rhythm and a better sound. But on Going Home, another six person collaboration with Cohen, Eno and the others finds Faithful trying to take on a persona that might suit an old Audrey Hepburn had she lived, reminiscing in period costume about ‘Landan’ but Faithful doesn’t pull it off. She has the script but not the faraway stare, instead of brilliantly portraying her experience like Maggie Smith might as an old lady actor, she survives the role only on past glories. A distinctive and recognisable voice doesn’t help and ending with a Hoagy Carmichael classic I Get Along Without You Very Well is unfortunately the truth.
Not everyone can just show up as themselves because magic fades into dust through the weariness of art’s responsibilities as they become harder to scale – like the stairs.