Wednesday, August 10, 2011

54. Marianne Faithfull, "Why D'ya Do It" (1979)


This bracing, foul-mouthed six-minute+ finale to Marianne Faithfull's postpunk comeback bid, the Broken English album, basically set the terms of the effort plain. The next phase of her career was not going to be the whisper-sweet flower-child coffeehouse princess of "As Tears Go By," but something rather more like a full-grown woman sunk into depression and addiction and jealousy and rage, exploding with volcanic force. "Every time I see your dick I see her cunt in my bed," is the way she puts it, trying to explain her feelings. At the same time, even as the emotional tenor rarely drifts far from that of a gaping wound, the production by Steve Winwood (where'd he come from?!) is pretty slick, a dancefloor groove with tidy beats, little keyboard washes and fills, and a raw electric guitar to play off and reflect the mood. Sometimes I hear this and it's just right, other times it's too much. But even when it's too much it never seems like a shallow exercise in shock—the strange particularities ("get stoned on my hash," "cobwebs up her fanny") ground it in something that feels utterly like lived experience. It's like finding the diary of a stranger on the street, starting to read it for entertainment, and finally reaching the parts where you wish you never had. Nothing Faithfull has done since has ever come close to the dour confessionals found here. She went on to more or less reinvent herself in a strain of Brechtian artsong, an heir to Marlene Dietrich, dipped in jazz and croaking vocals and wise from life experience. Everything she has done since has been worth looking into, but I can't help thinking that the veracity of the entire back end of her career is rooted one way or another in the unforgettable moment of this one song.

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