How NOT to write about music – 3. Marianne Faithfull

Negative-Capability

OK. So what would you like to read in a blog entry about the new Marianne Faithfull single and album?

The press release has it that “Negative Capability is Marianne Faithfull’s 21st album and the most emotionally powerful of her 54-year recording career”; a grandiose claim that rather oddly has the effect of dismissing the rest of the singer’s rather daunting catalogue as being emotionally second-rate. The new single, featuring Warren Ellis on violin and Nick Cave on backing vocals, is fine – but on a cursory listen does not sound any more (or any less) emotionally powerful than her wonderful and fatalistic 17th album, 2005’s Before The Poison, for example. She has collaborated with other musicians for years  – and the descriptions being thrown her way for decades, “poetic and unnerving”, “honey-over-gravel voice” or “dark and desolate” – could equally as well apply here.

Faithfull is similar to Cave inasmuch as she never quite lets you forget she is a performer. This new single is reminiscent of Cave’s own ‘Helpless’.

OK. So what would you like to read in a blog entry about the new Marianne Faithfull single and album?

Information, supposition, procrastination.

Faithfull is a highly respected and established artist: so how does her new material match up to her past material? It matches up just fine. Uh, nothing matches ‘Broken English’. Nothing. And that sure had no tasteful arrangements. Incidentally, I love the way the version I’ve linked to on YouTube keeps skipping at the start.

What are her lyrical concerns? What is her current life status? Who are her current collaborators? From the press release again: “Facing down arthritis and bolstered by collaborators including Warren Ellis, Nick Cave, Rob Ellis, Ed Harcourt and Mark Lanegan, Negative Capability is charged with brutal honesty and autobiographical reflection as she addresses losing old friends, her loneliness living in her adopted city of Paris, and love.” You need more than this? Insight, validation of your own taste, passion? Truth to tell the song sounds a little too polished – the starkness of her performed reality feels like it needs less orchestration than Ellis’ lush weeping, the sombre piano.

I am not trying to be negative here, just realistic. I love Marianne’s voice and music. I like this new single. But realism is the last thing anyone wants from critics, correct?

OK. Here’s a fast pop quiz for anyone interested. Keep a track of the news stories and first reviews running around ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ and Negative Capability – see how many quote word-for-word from the press release in the paragraph above. That is not music criticism or evaluation. That is simple laziness, plagiarism. Yet this is what gets called music criticism the world over.

Note to blog writers: Pause for an hour. Go for a coffee, a meeting, a sleep, a sexual encounter. Do not press ‘publish’ until you have given yourself some space for private mediation, a chance to expand upon your own brief.

“I only listen to her sing
And I never hear her talking”

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