Aside from that unmistakable voice, Marianne Faithfull‘s new album Horses And High Heels is a very different beast to 2009’s Easy Come, Easy Go. It’s laid-back where its predecessor was grandiose, devoid of celebrity duets, and even features some Faithfull originals. But how does Marianne herself see it?
“It is a more relaxed album, yes. Easy Come Easy Go we did as a treat for my audience, and for me and Hal (Willner, her long-term producer) – we just recorded the songs we liked best with the people we wanted to work with. It worked out very well but in truth I went down that route because I couldn’t write, I had a block.”
Now she’s a little less blocked. “This one is more my album. In my own songs I’m writing about my real life, my daily life in Paris or Dublin, whereas Why Did We Have To Part is a break up song. Which is drawn from reality, yes. And the covers weren’t hard to choose this time: I have to choose songs that I feel for personally, there has to be a chord it strikes. The lyrics are very important, something I can feel. I learn it, I listen to it a lot, and suddenly I start to inhabit it and it becomes very real to me.”
Does she think there’s more respect these days for the art of interpretation? “I think there probably is, yes. But I am lucky in that I can do it – it is hard to do, but it’s just something I have.”
With her hoarse, cracked voice, legendary past and devoted following it’s tempting to think of Faithfull as a chanteuse in the tradition of Judy Garland or Edith Piaf. But she resists the temptation to pigeonhole her. “Chansons? No, this is a pop record!” Isn’t she getting on a bit, though, to still be considered as a pop singer?
“Well, it’s a fine line. Past Present And Future (originally recorded by ’60s girl group The Shangri-Las) is a song about teenage angst and broken hearts. But of course this can still happen at any age. But I deliver it in a very grown up way – well it would have to be if I did it, wouldn’t it? But rock ‘n’ roll is such a teenage thing. After a while you have to realise that it’s not all about testosterone, being the best on the block and all that stuff. There are bands who are still doing all that, but I think that’s a bit retarded. It’s perfectly normal at 21 but if you’re in your 60s it gets a bit stupid.”
Just as the pop music she releases these days is markedly different from the pop music of her youth, so her 2011-model voice has a different character altogether. She describes it as limited, and yet – surely – her voice is a major draw for old and new fans alike. “I suppose it is, but sometimes I do regret that I don’t have the range that I did. Of course without the drugs and drink it would be better, but it wouldn’t be my voice, would it? It has to be mine. In any case I do think my voice has got much better on this record.”
It’s certainly richer that it was in the late ’70s, when her pivotal Broken English album was released. “Well, back then I was still taking drugs – not too many by then, but enough to thin my voice.”
“I look forward to the day that I’m not in the papers at all.” – Marianne Faithfull
Marianne Faithfull has a tendency to reveal a lot in interviews; to be highly candid about drugs, depression and disease, to name a few talking points. Does she ever wish she hadn’t opened up quite so much?
“I do wish sometimes that I hadn’t been so candid. I look forward to the day that I’m not in the papers at all. My ability to chat on almost anything is nice in certain settings, but it can go horribly wrong. I’m too frank, too honest.” What are the repercussions of that? “Well, I don’t want to talk about it. But it is difficult. People make things up, I think I am going to sue” – insert name of well-known music magazine – “they’ve made something up about me. Yes, people are still making things up about me.”
Nonetheless, she’s still full of enthusiasm about making music. “I love all stages of the process, I like finding the right songs, I love recording them, I love performing too.” And we’re not making that up.
Marianne Faithfull’s album Horses And High Heels is released on 7 March through Dramatico. She performs at the Barbican, London on 24 May. For tickets and further information see mariannefaithfull.org.uk.