Krautrock with dub overtones.
Chris Jones 2002
The annals of classic pop history have been recently sullied by what has come to be almost a genre in its own right - the Duets album: career-boosting "collaborations" wherein old-timers drag younger, hipper names into the studios to wildly variable and often excrutiatingly embarassing ends. Does anyone really believe that Tom Jones hangs out with the Stereophonics? And may the Lord forgive Lulu for her forthcoming addition to the oeuvre. The point being: if you're getting on, you shouldn't have to try and reinvent yourself for a younger audience. Marianne, the grande dame of louche can afford to wait for people to approach her - for the first lady of sixties excess makes the young 'uns look cool by association. This is why Kissin Time, is the embodiment of growing old gracefully. Ms Faithfull DOESN'T CARE whether she's graceful or not; just telling it as she sees it. So who wins the mix'n'match competition to be Marianne's new musical beau?
Let's deal with the stragglers first. Dave Stewart is, of course, neither young or particularly cool these days and "Song For Nico", while having all the correct lyrical and cultural tropes turns autobiography into a dull plod. Etienne Daho's contribution to "The Pleasure Song" is suitably smooth in that Gallic cheese way that's so de rigeur. Faithfull gave Jarvis Cocker the job of coming up with a song to match the title "Sliding Through Life On Charm" (a misplaced piece of modesty when you consider work such as Broken English). Alas, all Jarvis could give us is a Pulp-by-numbers remake of "Common People" with a few salty lyrics thrown in to give the effect of risqué soul searching. It fails to rise above its dated britpop roots.
So who are the winners? Billy Corgan's collaborations show a remarkable sensitivity previously lost in the sub-goth mire of the Smashing Pumpkins. "Wherever I Go" is a slice of glistening pop perfection - stately and deeply affecting. Beck, by Marianne's own admission a genius, comes a close second in the collaboration prize-fight. "Like Being Born" is a plaintive baroque masterpiece, drawing on the filigree folk arrangements that peppered his Mutations album. "Nobody's Fault" from the same album, pales next to the original. Where Beck ultimately fails is in making Ms F sound as though she's a guest on one of HIS albums. The single "Sex With Strangers", with its squelchy beat box mechanics, could easily be an outtake from Midnite Vultures.
Which leaves the winner; Blur! Their increasingly avant garde leanings have collided with La Faithfull's cracked vocal musings at a perfect juncture. Krautrock with dub overtones lends itself perfectly to the more obtuse lyrics of the title track. It makes you wish that the whole album had been done with them. Maybe we can hope that she'll repay the favour on their next outing. In the end Marianne Faithfull remains an icon, and far more than the mere über groupie/muse that the media portrays.