With 1999's Vagabond Ways, Marianne Faithfull started turning her albums into guest-star-studded affairs, bringing in everyone from Elton John to Roger Waters to Beck to Billy Corgan to co-write songs and provide musical support. She's one of the few singers who could do this without worrying about losing her own personality in the process. Even if her voice hadn't aged into such a distinctive cracked cabaret croon, no one comes with as much history as Faithfull: She could probably turn a Lil Jon composition into a master class in dogged perseverance.
With Before The Poison, Faithfull may have found her most sympathetic collaborators to date (with the possible exception of Jarvis Cocker, whose "Sliding Through Life On Charm" was the highlight of 2002's Kissin' Time). Stripping the instrumentation down to its ragged essence, PJ Harvey puts Faithfull into the context of Harvey's own early, raw sound on five tracks, most successfully with "My Friends Have." That ambiguous ode to companionship finds Faithfull repeating the line "you're a friend of mine" until it starts to sound like the last words whoever's on the receiving end will ever hear. Working with Hal Willner and Bad Seed Warren Ellis, Nick Cave picks up where Harvey leaves off, helping capture Faithfull at her most romantic on "Crazy Love," and at her most sinister with "Desperanto." The romantic side has the edge, bringing out the interpretive skills Faithfull picked up doing Kurt Weill sets over the past decade, but it's still a pleasure to hear her trying new approaches, a trend that carries over into collaborations with Damon Albarn and Jon Brion. She keeps good company these days, and it spills over into her music in the best way possible.