Arts: Pop - Time to let those demons run free

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The Independent Culture
MY NEXT door neighbour Charley loves you, Marianne. He may be a dour 60-year-old,ex-electrician from the East End of London but, when I mentioned your name, he smiled tenderly. "Lovely voice. `Come And Stay With Me'. Beautiful. Got a spare ticket?" But that had already been claimed. Marianne's a one-off. No other female singer has lived so hard, taken so many drugs (interviewer Will Self fell back in genuflecting awe) and maintained for so long (she's 52) such a dynamic if fractured easy muse. And Sunday night was special because for the first time in four years we were due to see new work.

Since 1987, Faithfull has turned out tributes to the songs of Brecht and Weill, consumed by their dissonant angst, perhaps because it reflects the beasts rampaging through her soul. Her new album Vagabond Ways is a different animal. Written mostly by Faithfull, it's rock-soaked, hoarse- voiced and personal. She's said that her 1994 autobiography cleared away the baggage of her smack-ridden adult past; she's said that this record "was meant to be Marianne-lite, but somehow it came out more serious than the book".

True enough. Demons aren't that easily exorcised, and the record gives them room to roam - but beautifully. When Faithfull delivers the numbers tonight, they're raw-hearted pathos, memoirs of a survivor. That's not how things start though. Faithfull takes the stage sexy as hell in white dinner suit with visible, massive cleavage, swaggering attitude and trainers - "I've twisted my ankle, that's why I'm limping. It's my Gene Vincent imitation. If it works, I'll keep it in." She kicks off with a sleazy "Broken English", then it's "Vagabond Ways", which gets wild applause for its couplet "I drink and I take drugs/I love sex and I move around a lot". She gives us a breathtakingly vicious "Working Class Hero". Then flanked by her hot little band - slide guitar, Hammond organ - heads into a rolling swamp blues. Thus far, she's killingly funny, ribbing the audience, laughing at herself.

Out-takes from the new album mixed "Ballad of Lucy Jordan" folk-rock with trippy hypnotica that makes her ultra-contemporary. Her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song" sets her irony against heavy, dubby bass; "Incarceration of a Flower Child", a Roger Waters-penned ode to Syd Barrett; the lush ballad "For Wanting You", written for her by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, is lost in brave denial ("these aren't scars, they're only runs"); "Wilder Shores of Love", a psychedelic ride into the beyond, smoulders with pain. Opening in the new self-reflection ("How did you fall so low/From so high above?") it reflects a past desolation whose hurt does not abate: "I can't forget the way you used to hold me/I can't forget the love that wasn't there ...".

Songs of battered triumph, relentless remorse, only occasionally melodramatic. Ah yes, and she did "Come and Stay With Me". We were putty in her hands. Charley would've melted.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper. Plays Liverpool Philharmonic, tonight; Cambridge Corn Exchange ,Thurs; Glastonbury, Fri