A Perfect Stranger: The Island Anthology
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/23/2009
This compilation would serve as Faithfull’s last official release for the Island label. It had been a tremendous partnership that began way back in 1979 when they signed Faithfull on a whim, and she returned the favor by turning out her masterpiece, Broken English. From that point through to 1995’s A Secret Life, Faithfull had produced a body of work that is as eclectic as it is captivating. This two-disc release takes mostly the cream of the crop of all her Island albums and it also features a few (at the time) previously unreleased tracks.
The first disc is the closest thing to a Faithfull “hits” package that you’ll find. Never one to bother with the singles charts, Marianne is very much an album artist (although on occasion some of her songs have popped up in the higher part of the charts over the years). Most of these cuts saw some chart action upon release, and grouped together here they blend effortlessly into an impressive fifteen track selection.
The first six songs are lifted from Broken English, which include the prime cuts “Guilt,” “Working Class Hero,” and the ferocious “Why’d Ya Do It.” Never a favorite of mine, Dangerous Acquaintances did however yield a couple of strong tracks, which have been included here, “Sweetheart” and “For Beauty’s Sake” being the best of those chosen to represent that album. A Child’s Adventure gets a look in with only three songs, but they remain among Marianne’s finest efforts. “The Blue Millionaire,” “Falling From Grace,” and “Running For Our Lives” offer the best of Faithfull’s early ‘80s output, with “Sister Morphine” wisely added into the mix as well.
The second disc is a much more in-depth study of Faithfull’s works, showcasing her obscure covers and stunning Weimar Cabaret cuts along with a few live gems thrown in for good measure. From Marianne’s stunning Strange Weather LP through to her Weimar Republic-inspired albums (20th Century Blues and The Seven Deadly Sins), you get a healthy dose of covers ranging from 1930’s jazz to modern day blues. The live tracks (“Times Square” and “When I Find My Life”) were lifted from Marianne’s extraordinary live LP, Blazing Away, and they fit extremely well with the more eclectic material on offer throughout the second disc.
Faithfull’s haunting version of Patti Smith’s “Ghost Dance” is a true highlight, as are the several unreleased tracks that appeared on this set for the first time. From the Strange Weather sessions, “Gloomy Sunday” is every bit as morbid as the album it was intended for. A few songs from the mid-‘80s sessions that were intended for the album that Island pulled the pin on were finally released here as well. Of these songs, “A Perfect Stranger” and “A Waste Of Time” are Faithfull originals, and “Conversation On A Barstool” and “Isolation” finds Marianne covering Bono and John Lennon, respectively.
The only gripe I have with this collection is the peculiar decision to close the set out with no less than four tracks from the patchy Faithfull/Badalamenti collaboration A Secret Life. One superb song from that album, “Love In The Afternoon,” is the only song included that is worthy of the company it keeps here. The coldness of “Sleep” just sounds out of place, as does the washed-out “Bored By Dreams.” A personal favorite of Marianne’s, “She” hits the mark, however, and closes out the second disc’s twenty tracks with conviction.
All in all, this is a fine introduction to some of Marianne’s best work up until 1998, and at thirty-five tracks it certainly covers enough ground to be labeled an anthology. However, while Island was looking back on their partnership with Marianne, the woman herself was looking forward, and the next year offered us one of her very best albums ever; in doing so, she relit her creative fire and begun a new journey back into the world of rock, where she remains better than ever today.