Who? Marianne Faithfull
Title: Horses and High Heels
Label: (Dramatico records)
Tell me more: Lazy journalists continue to reference her collaborations in the 1960s with the Rolling Stones as the peak of her career, but there’s been innumerable solo albums, culminating in the much-lauded Broken English (1979) and a variety of acting work. Horses … contains eight cover versions and four new songs co-written by Faithfull.
The Lowdown: Despite three-quarters of Horses and High Heels being written by others, to call it mainly a covers album, a concept synonymous with artists struggling with writer’s block or needing a quick sales boost, would be unfair, given these aren’t your karaoke foodstuffs or radio-friendly unit shifters. Instead, she’s plucked obscurities by the likes of Jackie Lomax and the Twilight Singers. Her deep voice would be perfect to narrate a Gothic play, and brings a touch of eerieness on The Old House, written specially for the album by Irish playwright Franck McGuinness. This, and the opener The Stations, require a certain mood for listening while the single Why Did We Have to Part is, as you can imagine, a trawl through the past, as Faithfull seeks some answers.
Recorded in New Orleans, the feel of Louisiana and the Deep South oozes through, her version of That’s How Every Empire Falls (by R.B. Morris) sounds epic, and uplifting and gloomy in the same few verses. She also does a soul track, No Reason, that comes across as David Bowie, circa 1975. She’s not afraid of broadening her horizons but while Horses and High Heels is adventurous, Faithfull sometimes misses the mark on the covers and her voice doesn’t have the range to do some of them justice.
Anything else? Talk about good breeding! Her father, Major Robert Glynn was a British military officer and college professor in psychology. Her mother, Baroness Erisso, was connected to the Hapsburg dynasty and a ballerina in the Max Reinhardt Company.
Who? PJ Harvey
Title: Let England Shake
Tell me more: Harvey is the serious Siouxsie Sioux, all black hair and pseudo-gothicness. I regard Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) as her finest 45 minutes, a rousing collection that had me both itching for more and in need of some respite after playing it. It is a glorious work but as with all Harvey albums requires some padding to soften the landing. Let England Shake was recorded in a 19th Century church in Dorset and features old collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey.
The Lowdown: Harvey has often focused on the emotional, writing about her loves, hates, desires, the whole gamut is there. For Let England Shake, Harvey has taken on an observational role, looking at her home country and its role abroad, with an emphasis on war, both current and historical. The end of the Empire and Britain’s diminished role in the 21st Century brings Harvey to note that “England’s dancing days are done,” on the title track and on a track simply titled England her homeland “leaves sadness, it leaves a taste, a bitter one,”.
The bugle’s used to majestic effect on The Glorious Land, one of a few tracks that reference the horrors of World War I and in particular the gory Gallipoli campaign that is etched so strongly in the psyche of the people of New Zealand and Australia, who’s men took the brunt of the armoury of the Empire’s foes. Those who know Harvey will not be surprised that she describes events as they are, eg “soldiers fell like lumps of meat” on The Words That Maketh Murder. Anyone waiting for a pop album may feel this is not it, but the militaristic and national soul-searching elements aside, this is a generally uplifting album that shows a musical diversity and even includes a sample of Niney the Observer’s reggae classic Blood and Fire.
Title: Deerhoof Vs Evil
Label: Flying Nun
Tell me more: Flying Nun were at the forefront of the so-called Dunedin Scene in the early 1980s but the revived version of Roger Sheppard’s label now releases international material, with this release created by a San Francisco outfit who’ve been around the block since 1994.
The Lowdown: The reasons Deerhoof are not the pangalactic force some may wish is the same reasons we should love them so. The first thing you notice is how subtle singer Satomi Matsuzaki sounds. She possesses a cutesy voice with the lyrics fitting neatly with her style, but I can see how it could be irritating over a whole album. Matsuzaki is the opposite of Marianne Faithfull and her gruff intonations. With titles like Behold a Marvel in the Darkness and Must Fight Current (say it in a superhero trying to save his life in a choppy ocean kind of way), and the use of such instrumentation as dump-sourced drums, teeny keyboards and super-condensed guitars, Deerhoof remind me hugely of England’s Stereolab and their glowful lo-fi groovy sound.
Deerhoof are a talented bunch with a tendency to dabble in the diverse and untrendy. It’s obvious listening to Deerhoof Vs Evil that there is a sense of fun in being a unique, adventurous band who’re making songs for the sake of themselves. Not evil, just pleasant.