An absolute tour de force of an album from an artist with nothing left to lose.
Ian Wade 2013
Marianne Faithfull didn’t begin as she meant to go on. Debuting as a promising singer-songwriter in 1964, she was soon a wife and mother. But she turned her back on her husband to get together with Mick Jagger, becoming his muse and also something of a drug addict as The Rolling Stones’ notoriety grew in the late-60s.
A split with Jagger in 1970 coincided with her drug habit spiralling out of control. Faithfull lost custody of her son, and began living on the streets, blurring away the days courtesy of a substantial heroin habit. She went as far as attempting suicide, but salvation would await her at the decade’s end.
Years of substance abuse, as well as severe laryngitis, permanently changed Faithfull’s voice. But Island Records founder Chris Blackwell heard potential in a set of demos, and put the newly gruff-toned singer to work on what would become Broken English, released in October 1979.
The album – which followed a first (not-so-successful) comeback in 1976, with the country styled Dreamin’ My Dreams – was recorded twice, the final version featuring new-wave-like keys by Steve Winwood.
The original mix is included in this deluxe edition, filling much of the second disc. Also included is the Derek Jarman-directed film Broken English, finally given its commercial debut.
Broken English, the album, is almost autobiographical. Although its title track was inspired by a book about Baader-Meinhof, the other selections could have been penned by Faithfull herself: Guilt was Barry Reynolds’ song about addiction; What’s the Hurry? about a junkie’s endless need to score.
The set’s hit single, a cover of Dr Hook’s The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, was “my life, had it taken a different turn”. Her version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero was delivered perfectly, raspily, through a gauze of disgust, even though she was nothing like the titular character.
Standout moment Why D’ya Do It is the sort of song nobody wants dedicated to them. Through a Sly and Robbie pastiche skank, Faithfull lets rip with venom rarely heard outside of the punk world in the late-70s, ranting Heathcoate Williams-penned words at a cheating lover.
Its radio unfriendliness is exhilarating.
At the time of Broken English’s production, Faithfull had nothing left to lose. And, like so much art made in such circumstances, it’s an absolute tour de force of an album. She has described it as her masterpiece. She’s not wrong.