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Rich Kid Blues

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Album Review

A couple of lackluster country albums notwithstanding, Marianne Faithfull spent the '70s drifting through the same world of twilight hearsay and shadow that engrossed Iggy Pop for so much of the time. Rumors that she was recording were followed by stories of disheveled collapse or abandonment; rumors that she was filming generally ended with late-night airings for incomprehensible plays; and rumors that she was ever going to return as even a vaguely potent power on the music scene were laughed off as the ramblings of an overly forgiving fan club. Laugh again. Following her resurrection at the end of the decade, those ghostly sessions in the very early '70s came to haunt the extremes of the completist's consciousness, but it would be two decades more before listeners had the chance to discover whether those sessions could live up to the legend. In fact, they surpassed it, and Rich Kid Blues, drawn from a string of ultimately abortive recordings around 1970-1971, not only reassesses that aspect of Faithfull's life, it reappraises a lot of what she accomplished later. Neither Faithfull nor (surprisingly!) the liner essay rate the recordings highly. Though it certainly feeds out of the same basic mindset which inspired Faithfull's earlier recording of "Sister Morphine," Rich Kid Blues nevertheless catches the singer at her lowest ebb — "probably on the edge of death," is Faithfull's own summary, and she serves up a selection of songs to match: sparse, stark interpretations of Cat Stevens' "Sad Lisa," Tim Hardin's "Southern Butterfly," Sandy Denny's "Crazy Lady Blues," Phil Ochs' "Chords of Fame," and, one of three Dylan covers, a positively spine-chilling "Visions of Johanna." The liners continue to put the album down — the author makes a very strong argument against Rich Kid Blues being considered among such rock vérité albums as Neil Young's Tonight's the Night or Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, and it is hard to disagree. But not for the reasons you might think. Those albums, after all, were made by musicians in full control of their emotional and musical faculties. If Rich Kid Blues has any peers, it is alongside Iggy Pop's Kill City or Dusty Springfield's Longing, albums cut so far from even the basic ground rules of the time that they — like Rich Kid Blues — weren't even released at the time. All three were recorded out of time and out of control — Faithfull and Iggy were also out of contract. All three hit extremes of discomfort whose reality verges on crucifixion. And all three have a nerve-twisting honesty which raise them so far above the rest of the artist's output that even perfection sounds hollow alongside them. If commercial suicide wasn't such a meaningless cliché, it would sound like this. Placing Rich Kid Blues within any critical reassessment of Faithfull's career is, however, educational. It proves that the anger and pain of Broken English didn't emerge from a creative void; that the horror and suffering of "Sister Morphine" wasn't switched off when the recording light went out. And that the age-old conflict of life echoing art, and art reflecting life, is ultimately utterly meaningless. True potency only emerges when the two are indistinguishable.


Born: 29 December 1946 in Hampstead, London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Few stars of the '60s reinvented themselves as successfully as Marianne Faithfull. Coaxed into a singing career by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham in 1964, she had a big hit in both Britain and the U.S. with her debut single, the Jagger/Richards composition "As Tears Go By" (which prefaced the Stones' own version by a full year). Considerably more successful in her native land than the States, she had a series of hits in the mid-'60s that set her high, fragile voice against delicate orchestral...
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