In a 2009 interview, Marianne Faithfull expressed a fervent hope “to find love soon.” Here’s hoping she doesn’t. As tragic and tumultuous as Faithfull’s life and career have been over the past 45 years, that’s only deepened her music’s eroded soulfulness. And enriched her voice, of course; on her new album, Horses And High Heels, Faithfull’s trademark rasp is brought to bear against eight standards, mostly vintage R&B, and five originals, four co-written by Faithfull. The outcome is reliably haunting.
In a fractured croon that sounds like a choir of cracked knuckles, Faithfull begins the album with an agonizing version of The Gutter Twins’ “The Stations,” which references Christ’s Passion even as it skirts the precipice of personal apocalypse—the kind Faithfull knows all too well, and interprets with a grim, almost courteous resignation. Not to let a full head of Armageddon go to waste, she imbues R.B. Morris’ “That’s How Every Empire Falls” with croaked poetry and delicate reverberations of dread.
Guests Lou Reed, Dr. John, and The MC5’s Wayne Kramer make tasteful appearances—and poet Frank McGuinness continues his association with Faithfull via his lyrics to the album’s closer, “The Old House”—but Horses is wholly Faithfull’s show. And her hope still wriggles its way through the gloom; her rendition of Allen Toussaint’s “Back In Baby’s Arms” clings sweetly to the future, even as Reed’s distorted guitar spits bliss and rancor in equal doses. If Faithfull is fated to be hammered by heartbreak, at least it makes for rough, crumbling gems like this.