Marianne Faithfull & Warren Ellis – ‘She Walks In Beauty’

❉ Marianne Faithfull stands victorious both in her place and her purpose, writes Eoghan Lyng.

In April 2020, Marianne Faithfull was struck by COVID-19. By virtue of her age and ailments, no one-not even collaborator Warren Ellis – held much hope for her wellbeing. “She wasn’t actually meant to make it through,” Ellis told The Guardian; “That she survived it – it’s insane.” But she made it through, fuelled with a desire to realise her dream to record an album made entirely of British poetry. And it is with that knowledge that her rendition of Ozymandias, Shelley’s evocative treatise of survival, sounds particularly potent in its delivery:

“And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;”

Her rendition of Ozymandias sits between a convoy of Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth and Keats, and while the Shelley sonnet is the undisputed highlight, the collection leads to a pleasant night’s entertainment. Faithfull, her voice worn from half a century of balladeering, holds a soothing quality, and the words- textured as they are-fall smoothly from her worldly lips. Apropos to lockdown conditions, she recorded her vocals in London, before sending them to Paris, where Ellis awaited. Having lived in France since 1998, the country’s pastoral influence is felt in his music, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci stands as their thank you to the nation.

For then, it’s a return to the agrarian England, where strangers, citadels and moments of spiritual splendour has enriched the great historical compendium. Ode To A Nightingale, embellished by a thunderous keyboard sound, is particularly complex, compiling a tapestry where fury and fever have pulled a land apart too long. Fragments of bird-tunes open listeners up to She Walks In Beauty, while To Autumn holds a sombre backing. Fittingly, Faithfull adopts an Irish accent for So We’ll Go No More a Roving, on a letter that was once penned for Dublin laureate, Thomas Moore.

 Brian Eno and Nick Cave contributed to the recordings, but the music, beautiful as it often is, never seems to  endanger the singer or the poetry, but captures the worlds that the poet has provided. There’s a greater presence of piano performance The Bridge of Sighs, but otherwise the star is the very performer fortunate enough to read them.

The album closes on an eleven minute performance of Lady of Shallot, her voice leaning over the picture of a reaper welcoming an unwanted person to their next life. But, the poem is one of triumph, and the character- determined as ever to return to Camelot- stands victorious both in her place and her purpose. The same could be said about the performer, who recently stared a promised death with tremendous poise. It’s hard not to feel happy for Faithfull, caught in the emotion of the performance, capturing the sparkle that brought so many readers to these poets for centuries. And with any luck, she’ll return to the genre, this time parading in a world that now holds COVID as an unwanted memory of yore

‘She Walks In Beauty’ by Marianne Faithfull & Warren Ellis: featuring Nick Cave, Brian Eno and Vincent Ségal, released April 30 2021 on BMG. Available to pre-order from SheWalksInBeautyPreOrder

  A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng is the author of ‘U2: Every Album, Every Song’ which is out now and available from Sonicbond Publishing, RRP £14.99 (ISBN 1789520789). Follow him on TwitterVisit his homepage. 

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