If David Crosby was quietly pondering his own mortality on his recent album, Here If You Listen, then Marianne Faithfull is positively resigned to it, her withered world-weary voice capable of bringing a tear to the eyes of even the most unsentimental skeptic. “Blues, stay away, stay away from me. I hate to lose old friends” she sings on ‘Born To Live‘, referring to the many departures from this mortal coil by some of her nearest and dearest companions, not least her lifelong friend Anita Pallenberg, before proclaiming that she will “pray for a good death, one for me, one for you, and I wish it for all, all I know and love.”
Despite the rather downbeat subject matter, Negative Capability actually has the opposite effect to what its title might suggest. Sure, much of it is a sombre acknowledgment of the ageing process, warts and all, as evidenced in the stunning Ed Harcourt co-write ‘In My Own Particular Way‘ with lyrics like “I know I’m not young, and I’m damaged,” but the record is also laced with an irresistible positivity, so the follow-on line to that is “but I’m still pretty, kind and funny” to redress the balance. Interestingly, Faithfull also covers Jagger and Richards’ ‘As Tears Go By‘ for the third time in her recording career, each time seeming to put a new perspective upon that song’s imagery. So when here, in the twilight of her career, she sings “I sit and watch the children play“, she adopts the persona of a grandmother watching through the window from the comfort of her armchair, while her immaculate reading of Bob Dylan‘s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue‘ aligns her with swansong albums by the likes of Johnny Cash, though hopefully we’ll have Marianne with us a bit longer than that.
Having resided in Paris for some time now, that tragic night at the Bataclan in 2015 and its associated terror attacks are permanently etched in her memory as the absolute nadir of her existence, and the scathingly defiant ‘They Come At Night‘ documents the feelings that still resonate three years later (“those who survived that night are still completely traumatised“). It goes hand in hand with the hushed contemplation of the aftermath in ‘No Moon In Paris‘, a kind of piano-led torch song that is simply gorgeous.
Featuring an array of faultless performances from some of the most celebrated musicians of the past 30 years, most notably Nick Cave on the magical cut ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen‘, along with fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis and namesake musician/producer Rob, Negative Capability is a quite remarkable piece of work. I just wish its closing track, ‘Loneliest Person‘ didn’t remind me so much of the damn song in the old Cadbury’s Flake advert!
Negative Capability is out now on BMG.