The Montreux Years

Marianne Faithfull

BMG, 2021

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski


In 2020, rock’s ultimate survivor Marianne Faithfull revealed that she had a particularly devastating bout of COVID, which she believed would affect her singing. Though she has since been put a regiment of vocal exercises to combat the long-term effects of the illness, it appeared as if a long and brilliant chapter of a singular artist would be over. Having recorded a spoken-word album of poetry (She Walks In Beauty), whether she will sing again remains a question mark.

So for now, we must revel in her large and deep discography of challenging, beautiful, disturbing music. Recording since the 1960s, Faithfull went through one of the most significant shifts in sound in rock history. Initially a pretty English rose who trilled twee folk-pop with a delicate, wavering soprano, she weathered health and substance issues to emerge as a rock chanteuse, her voice cracked and raspy, its simple beauty replaced by a gnarly gorgeousness. As a songwriter, Faithfull wasn’t afraid to delve into dark, uncomfortable places, matched by that ashy voice. In 1979, she released the classic Broken English, a definitive, seminal album that followed a lost period in the singer’s life as marked by anorexia, heroin addiction, and legal and personal issues.

Since Broken English, Faithfull has evolved into a grand dowager empress of rock, her gravelly voice crumbling even further with age, gaining nuance, gravitas, and character. Throughout the 1980s up to the 2020s, she released a series of albums that looked to rock, pop, synth, dance, cabaret, and art rock. While she is a stellar songwriter, she found even greater artistic success singing the songs of Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Noel Coward, becoming one of the most potent song stylists of her generation.

Known as an electrifying live performer, Faithfull was a regular performer at the Montreux Jazz Festival, mining her oeuvre to entertain audiences. For the latest entry of the Montreux Years series, Marianne Faithfull’s appearances from 1995 to 2009 are compiled in her latest release, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years. It’s a fantastic chronicle of Faithfull’s work as a live entertainer, a testament to her powers of interpretation even as her voice audibly ages and frays as the years pass by.

The songs aren’t arranged chronologically, a fascinating choice that makes sense after a few listens. It would be too easy to sequence the tracks in ascending order so that listeners can track the weariness in Faithfull’s singular instrument. But that would be missing the point of enjoying Marianne Faithfull because it’s the pockmarks in her voice that make her singing so fascinating. The song list is essentially a collection of her greatest hits, only missing two most defining songs, “As Time Goes By” and “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan” (though it could be argued that those two tunes have been endlessly compiled and collected in her various releases). Instead we get some later day, relatively obscure curios, including the synth-pop homage to Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico, “Song For Nico” from her 2002 album Kissin’ Time.

Other later day tunes that shine include Neko Case’s “Hold On, Hold On” from her 2008 effort, Easy Come, Easy Go, which she practically growls. The song is also notable because there’s a fantastic guitar solo on the song’s bridge. Faithfull’s collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti (of Twin Peaks fame) “She” from her 1995 effort, A Secret Life, is also included – and because it was recorded at the time of the song’s release, she’s in probably the strongest voice on the album and the backing band does a solid job of aping the lush, cinematic grandeur of Badalementi’s production.

The two best moments on the album are quite disparate. The opening track, a cover of Van Morrison’s “Madame George” from the 1995 Dagmar Hirtz film Moondance and a 1994 tribute album to Morrison features a loose and easy performance by Faithfull. Recorded in 1995, she has enough range in her voice to be able to add levels and nuance to storied tune (though her voice always possesses a ravaged beauty it does loses range as she ages). The other bright spot is an affectionate nod toward her British Invasion years, the 1965 pop hit “Come And Stay With Me,” written by the brilliant Jackie DeShannon. Cheekily admitting that she hasn’t returned to the ditty in over 35 years, she jumps into the song. The baroque pop is stripped down into a rollicking pop-rock number, and she applies her rasp to give the song a wizened wisdom.

Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years is a great reminder of just how marvelous Marianne Faithfull really is. The carefully-curated collection cherrypicks her best moments during her times at the festivals and shows her off very well. There isn’t a dud among the pieces, and even when her voice inevitably fails (the later dates show betray a withered range), it still packs an emotional wallop that is far more effective than any skyscraper-high note or churchy melisma.

Rating: A

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