..Before the Poison is a career high for Ms Faithfull and a timely release in the wake...
Rob Webb 2002
Two years after her last album, Kissin Time, and fresh from her recent appearance in William Burroughs' stage musical The Black Rider, Marianne Faithfull returns with Before the Poison. On Kissin Time it was Beck and Billy Corgan, amongst others, who shared the songwriting and playing duties. This time her fellow passengers, more suited perhaps to her nicotine-stained voice and brooding style, are Nick Cave and PJ Harvey (and their respective bands), with one track each from Damon Albarn and American composer Jon Brion.
Nick Cave's three songs, co-produced with Hal Wilner, are by far the strongest here. The haunting "There is a Ghost" and "Crazy Love", the latter bearing no relation at all to the lazy Van Morrison tune of the same name, feature members of the Bad Seeds plus Cave on tinkling piano. They evoke rainy European boulevards and Proustian moments: classic Cave and a perfect match for Faithfull's measured vocals. The third Cave composition, "Desperanto", crackles like pylons in a thunderstorm. Faithfull raps over a howling sax and wailing Hammond, while the Bad Seeds chant (from the neighbouring room, it seems) lines by Jim Morrison. Yes, it's that odd.
Other than Faithfull's slowburn drawl, there is little in Harvey's contributions - especially "The Mystery of Love" and the oblique "In the Factory" - to distinguish them from Harvey's own recordings: good news, if you like Polly Harvey's work. "My Friends Have" is built around a typically taut Harvey riff and throbs along in a punky kind of way. The languid "Before the Poison", another Faithfull/Harvey co-write, is an odd choice for the title track.
Heavy on the minor chords, Damon Albarn's ballad, "Last Song", resembles Coldplay or Radiohead, with a nod towards the mordant Jacques Brel. Musically speaking, how much further has the former-Blur frontman travelled than his Britpop rivals?
Closing the album on an unsettling note is Jon Brion's nursery-lullaby "City of Quartz", played on a variety of obscure instruments, such as the "paintbrush" guitar, toy piano and "fake glockenspeil". It's apparently about the fall of Babylon, although it may well be inspired by the Mike Davies book of the same name, which portrays a dystopic Los Angeles. If a film is ever made of Davies' City of Quartz, here's the perfect soundtrack.
Before the Poison is a career high for Ms Faithfull and a timely release in the wake of acclaimed new albums from Cave and Harvey.