Marianne Faithfull, “Negative Capability” (BMG)
Marianne Faithfull is a great musical survivor. She went from pure-voiced chanteuse of “As Tears Go By” to emblem of 1960s drug excess before re-emerging in 1979 with “Broken English,” a soul-baring blast of an album that still packs a punch.
Since then, Faithfull has matured into a diva of melancholy, her expressive voice roughened and deepened by time and life. “Negative Capability,” the 71-year-old singer’s 21st album, is a moving, quietly majestic collection of songs dwelling on aging, pain, loss and loneliness — hardly the usual rock ‘n’ roll fare.
Faithfull is chief lyricist, working with musical collaborators including Mark Lanegan, Ed Harcourt and Nick Cave, who co-wrote, plays piano and sings on the single “The Gypsy Faerie Queen,” a midsummer night’s meditation inspired by Shakespearean mysticism.
Faithfull and her producers, Rob Ellis and Warren Ellis (one of Cave’s Bad Seeds), have crafted a suite of tuneful, autumnal, tentatively hopeful songs, with simple, effective arrangements driven by acoustic guitar, meditative piano and somber strings.
Collectively, they work a mournful magic. Faithfull brings an ominous touch to Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and revisits two of her own songs: the Rolling Stones-penned “As Tears Go By,” which grows more poignant with age, and the mesmeric “Witches’ Song” from “Broken English.”
“Born to Live,” written for the late Anita Pallenberg, wishes for “a good death,” while “Don’t Go” mourns another departed friend, Martin Stone.
“They Come at Night” is a bleak response to the 2015 attacks in Faithfull’s adopted home city of Paris, while “No Moon in Paris” finds loneliness, rather than love, in the City of Light.
But it’s not all darkness. Faithfull’s indomitable spirit seeks more — more life, more hope, more love.
“In My Own Particular Way” offers a wry self-appraisal: “I know I’m not young and I’m damaged/But I’m still pretty, kind and funny.” And, declares Faithfull: “I’m ready to love.”