Marianne Faithfull’s Negative Capability

“Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”  – John Keats

Marianne Faithfull is the queen of the female rock n roll dispossessed. Whilst simultaneously legendary and painfully underrated, she has always been an artist that you either get, or don’t get. The voice that has been the searing echo throughout rock n roll since the 1960s, when the then fresh faced ‘It Girl of counter-culture’ presented us with a beautiful, if haunting collection of pop songs including the Stone’s As Tears Go By which made her a household name.

The re-invented Marianne Faithfull of 1979, however was always the best side of her, appearing like a tempest with powerful, broken mirror shard vocals providing a searing honesty that has been pitifully overlooked in favour of her male counterparts for too long. Marianne showed with songs such as Broken English and ultimate girl power anthem Why’d Ya Do It? That she was a force to be reckoned with, and that having overcome drug abuse, anorexia and being homeless, she was stronger, harder and more defiant than a lot of her contemporaries. 

Now in her (an impossible to believe) seventh decade and battling arthritis, Marianne is back with her 21st studio album Negative Capability. The cover itself shows her in defiance, with her shaggy blonde hair and piercing eyes, she unapologetically poses with her walking stick. Try her, nothing will stop her. Assembling such collaborators as Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Ed Harcourt & Rob Ellis, she delivers an album that is easily one of her most poignant yet. 

Setting the melancholic tone of the album, first track Misunderstanding is filled with mournful viola strings lyrics such as “Stay far away from me and from those I love, you only want to fuck me up.” Faithfull is back and reclaiming her crown in emboldened honesty. 

The second track and first single to be released, The Gypsy Faerie Queen, is quite simply beautiful. Cave’s piano and backing vocals add a folky depth to Faithfull’s Shakespearian lyrics. It’s a dreamy song of longing for fairy tales and magick that renders the listener into trance like appreciation. 

She revisits As Tears Go By early into the album, returning a much softer approach, with Bad Seed Warren Ellis on strings. It is a re-recording which displays the tremendous, and sometimes impossible growth in her since 1964. It’s a heartbreaking rendition, which challenges the listener not to get emotional as they are taken with Faithfull on stirring journey. Anyone that has read her autobiography, Faithfull, will be able to visualise her journey. 

Another notable track is the piano led tribute to Marianne’s late friend and fellow rock beauty queen, Anita Pallenberg. With lines such as “Pray for a good death, one for me, one for you” she speaks to the listener with a painstaking honesty, lamenting on the inevitable truth awaiting all of us.

There are re-recordings of both Broken English’s Witches Song, which appears with a Nico element on this album – approached with a much more mature interpretation by Faithfull, and Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – which is delivered with an unspoken urgency, that leaves listeners on edge, though not quite sure knowing why.

A notable mention must be made to They Come At Night, which Faithfull wrote about the 2015 Paris terrorist attack at the Bataclan. Probably one of the best tracks on the album, with stirring, confrontational lyrics such as “They return, the Nazis, every 70 years, Bombs explode in Paris, the future is here, There’s no brave England, no brave Russia, no America…”  Which feels much more like the soothsayer Faithful of 1979, with vocals delivered with the same urgency and anger of 38 years ago.

Across it’s 10 tracks, this album is gloriously haunting and simply beautiful. Faithfull is, at 71 years old, at her best. It’s definitely a must listen release of 2018. What are you waiting for?

Marianne Faithfull’s Negative Capability is available 2nd November, get it here.

Faithfull, Marianne’s autobiography is also a ZineUK recommended read, get it here.

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