REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/11/2009
Following the astonishing success of Broken English was not going to be easy. It had come out of nowhere, and it being such a critical and commercial success surprised no one more than Marianne herself. It would have been easy to follow up with more of the same edgy New Wave arrangements and desperate lyrics full of hatred and vitriol, but Faithfull did not take that path at all.
What she and her collaborators came up with was a surprisingly inoffensive mainstream pop-rock album that had the critics and fans alike scratching their heads. Where was the furious downtrodden Marianne, spitting out expressions of war, depression, and sexual jealousy?
Nowhere to be seen, according to the very first lines of the opener “Sweetheart:” “Sweetheart I’m changing my role in life / I’m not rearranging the main things in my life.” With those upbeat lyrics and the equally punchy arrangement, which is accented by some Barry Reynolds reggae guitar, we have a very different character than we last encountered. Faithfull now sounds defiant and hopeful for the future, in stark contrast to the personal terror that was so prevalent throughout Broken English.
Marianne’s hubby at the time Ben Brierley wrote for her the beautiful ballad “Intrigue,” which is given an understated performance both musically and vocally. The up-tempo popper “Easy In The City” never quite realizes it’s potential. It’s very New Wave, but lyrically it seems a tad underdone and Faithfull struggles to sound interested in this one. Next, “Strange One” quickly outshines the first three tracks with ease. It’s basically a slow-burning blues track fleshed out with some plucky guitar and organ work.
“Tenderness” offers nothing memorable, but lyrically it’s one of Marianne’s most sensitive to date. Steve Winwood cowrote “For Beauty’s Sake” with Faithfull, and it clearly stands out – in a good way. It’s reminiscent of Winwood’s work at the time with a great percussive track and Reynolds’ trusty reggae chops to flesh it out. It remains one of Marianne’s finest vocal performances, too.
The Marianne of old couldn’t resist shedding some more personal baggage, so we have the aptly titled “So Sad.” Faithfull’s tortured voice has rarely sounded more wounded than when she tenderly sings “Strum me hard, strum me fast / Fears sure built in to every wall / Looking hard through the glass / Fears sure built in with every waltz.” There’s plenty of space due to Mark Miller Mundy’s sparse production to really let the stark emotion of this one sink in.
“Eye Communication” suffers in the same way that “Easy In The City” does. It doesn’t have much going for it, and once again musically, the potential remains unfulfilled. The band should really have let it rip with this one, but by choosing not to, we are left with another half-baked reggae pop ditty.
The album’s closer “Truth, Bitter Truth” is a tad long at over seven minutes, but it seals the deal with conviction nonetheless. Marianne writes of her youth, allbeit somewhat cryptically: “Why did you let me know / How could you think I’d stand it / You knew I’d pay you back / I did and it happened / Do you care?” The only thing really wrong with it is that for such a personal lyric, Faithfull’s voice is buried too far into the mix to generate maximum effect.
In closing, I have to say that this is far from Marianne’s best, and the fact that it followed up the classic Broken English doesn’t help its cause, even today. Marianne and her posse would redeem themselves with her next few releases, but this one remains, despite moments of inspiration, one of her most flat and disappointing albums. Dangerous Acquaintances is for the diehards only.