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Before the Poison

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Album Review

Each time Marianne Faithfull issues a recording, fans and pundits hold their breaths waiting for another outing as iconoclastic as Broken English. Before the Poison isn't it for a number of reasons, quality not being one of them. Simply put, Before the Poison is an album that concerns itself with both sides of love, friendship, and redemption, not desolation or desperation. That said, there is plenty of human shadow in these ten songs. Polly Harvey wrote three songs here, co-wrote a pair with Faithfull, and is present on all of them. Nick Cave co-wrote three with the singer and his Bad Seeds back her on these tracks. She also co-wrote one apiece with Blur's Damon Albarn and composer Jon Brion. Along with Harvey and Cave, Rob Ellis and Hal Willner aided in production. Therefore, Before the Poison, like its predecessor, Kissin' Time, is an album of collaborations. But unlike that offering, this one is seamless; its songs are sequenced impeccably and all feel of a piece linked by emotional thematics. Harvey's songs are all moving and beautiful. Faithfull's reading of "No Child of Mine," a track that appeared on PJ's own last album, Uh Huh Her, has more depth and texture than the original. Harvey is pushing it on, underneath, her signature guitar sound ushering in each line as Faithfull — in fantastic voice throughout — does a call and response with herself until the refrain, when Harvey harmonizes and adds dimension to the stark loss and resignation uttered with great empathy and even tenderness. On "The Mystery of Love," which opens the set, Faithfull brings the weight of her life experience to Harvey's poetic lyric and opens its fathomless heart. On Cave's "Crazy Love," the lyric could have accompanied the footage in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. As Faithfull paints the skeletal portraits of the song's protagonists who move around the chessboard of life, she gets to the refrain where the tune splits wide and, as Warren Ellis' raggedly elegant violin sweeps above the rest, the singers offers a poetic truth from her own life: "Crazy love is all around me/Love is crazy, love is kind/But I know somehow you'll find me/Love is crazy, love is blind." On Albarn's "Last Song," possibility has passed into memory amid the swell of strings, tambourines, and acoustic pianos. It's a devastating track, and Faithfull sings with an authority that can only be borne by a witness. The disc closes with "City of Quartz," written with Brion. It's a fractured, slightly off-kilter waltz that could have easily appeared on Blazing Away or even as an outtake from 20th Century Blues. The notion of time's passage is in the present tense here, as strings enter amid the chimes underscoring longing, and the acceptance of human need. Before the Poison is poetic and unnerving; it stands alone in her catalog in the same way that Broken English did — but this time, on the other side of the mirror.

Biography

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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Before the Poison, Marianne Faithfull
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