Horses And High Heels
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/15/2011
Marianne Faithfull, the Grand Dame Of Rock, has continued to enjoy one of the most eclectic and unlikely careers (almost 50 years long) in the business to date. With the success of her previous album (2009's sublime Easy Come, Easy Go) still fresh in their minds, Faithfull and her trusted producer Hal Willner decided to strike while the iron was hot and get cracking on the rather swift (by today's standards) follow-up.
Heading to New Orleans, the pair gathered some of the best local talent (which included George Porter Jr., Carlo Nuccio and Doug Pettibone) and some assorted friends (Lou Reed, Wayne Kramer and Mac Rebennack) to help create a more laid-back and spontaneous record than its predecessor. Faithfull has never been one to repeat herself or just stick with what she knows will work, and so rather than make another complete album of covers, she decided it was time to begin writing again and so included four of her own songs into the mix that turned out about half covers and half original material.
Marianne was clearly inspired to write by the fact that her decades-long personal relationship with her partner/manager Francois Ravard had come to an end, and whilst the pair continue their professional and creative connection, it can’t have been an easy process for Faithfull during the two months of recording (Sep-Oct 2010). Marianne let her pen do the talking, though, as all we have to know about that situation is articulated perfectly in her own “Why Did We Have To Part,” on which she is backed by a cool bluesy rock track as she looks back on their union and offers a heartfelt delivery.
Three more Faithfull originals are scattered throughout the album here, and they all are rewarding in their own way. “Prussian Blue” is a wonderful retro folksy/rock song that is in stark contrast with dire lyrics. The mood is brighter though on the breezy “Eternity” as Marianne looks ahead to life after her “everlasting year.”
My favorite Faithfull song on the record is the wonderful title track, which again finds her reminiscing of times long ago: “When I lived in the city of darkness / It suited my face and my tears / The talk, the drink and the friends were good / And stood for my hopes and my fears.” The sweeping and stately track is perfectly suited to Faithfull’s enchanting story.
Irish playwright and long-time pal Frank McGuiness wrote “The Old House” for Marianne and it adds some mystique to the proceedings, a great way to close the album out. At the other end of the scale, the album’s opener “The Stations” is a great fit for Marianne as she again takes aim at the convent where she was schooled – a recurring theme in Faithfull’s work.
“That’s How Every Empire Falls” is a stunning song and a clear highlight, fitting the themes of the record perfectly. There are, however, some light moments to help keep things somewhat cheerful most of the time and they come in the form of some cleverly selected covers. “Past, Present And Future” is given a starkly different reworking that barely resembles the Shangri-La’s original; it shouldn’t work really for several reasons, but as is often the case with Marianne, it works for her. Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” gets a fine workout as does Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song.”
The up-tempo and rollicking “No Reason” shakes and shimmies with vigor and is matched by the equally thrilling “Gee Baby,” both giving the record some great chill-out moments. Also surprising is the soulful offering of Allen Toussaint’s “Back In Baby’s Arms,” which is given the grandest arrangement here featuring some beautiful strings and great backing vocals.
All in all, there’s not much more to say except for this: Horses And High Heels, Faithfull’s 18th studio album, is one of her very best and the most profound statement since 1998’s Vagabond Ways.