'Negative Capability' review: Marianne Faithfull is brutally honest as she salutes life, love and loneliness

Marianne Faithfull digs deep in ways that lay the 71-year-old's life bare for the world to see in her 21st album

                            'Negative Capability' review: Marianne Faithfull is brutally honest as she salutes life, love and loneliness

It is rare to see honest people anymore. That's why 'Negative Capability' stands out distinctly in today's soundscape. The 21st album of Marianne Faithfull digs deep in ways that lay the 71-year-old's life bare for the world to see. And one can only feel appreciative of the brutal honesty with which she approaches her latest musical survivor offering. 

In fact, it's phenomenal to see that the singer, songwriter and actor has been making music for over 50 years, from the time her stellar career took off at the age of 16 when she released her first hit single 'As Tears Go By' that made her an international star.

Album cover for 'Negative Capability' BMG (Photo credit: Yann Orhan)
Album cover for 'Negative Capability' BMG (Photo credit: Yann Orhan)

And now, packing the heavy baggage of a life — that rose with her first flurry of album successes and roles in movies like 'The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)', and 'Hamlet (1969)', hit rock bottom after a tumultuous relationship with Mick Jagger that led her to become anorexic, alcoholic and a heroin addict, and rose again to overcome her demons with a comeback in the 1979 release of her definitive album 'Broken English' — Faithfull offers her most honest and critical in 'Negative Capability'.

The term, first penned by poet John Keats in an 1817 letter to denote "a writer's ability to accept uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason", seems fitting to an album that is easily the most unflinchingly honest in Faithfull's 54-year recording career. 

With her clever songwriting, the album is steered by a range of collaborators including Warren Ellis and Nick Cave (from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), producer Rob Ellis, Ed Harcourt and Mark Lanegan. The combination leaves ‘Negative Capability’ charged with brutal honesty and autobiographical reflection as the singer addresses losing old friends, her loneliness living in her adopted city of Paris, and the unadulterated theme of 'love'. It is also a coming-of-age album that sees the veteran star embrace modern music and taste success just like the years when she was the crown princess of the UK pop counterculture movement.

Marianne Faithfull (Photo Credit: Yann Orhan/official website)
Marianne Faithfull (Photo Credit: Yann Orhan/official website)

The record kicks off with an acoustic guitar-driven intro and Faithfull's seasoned voice in 'Misunderstanding'. Ellis' violin offers poignant undertones as she hits a nerve singing "Love is here / The only thing I know for sure", even as the backing vocals fade in the end. 

'The Gypsy Faerie Queen', inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, is the first single from the album released in September. Faithfull's expressive vocals, roughened with time, comes raw as the strings and piano pave way to a melodic surprise in the chorus with the rest of the slow rock ensemble gliding in. The beautiful track, sung with Cave, exudes an eclectic revelation - with Faithfull dreaming about fairy tales and folk songs.

Going full circle, Faithfull revisits her first song, the Rolling Stones-penned 'As Tears Go By', which takes on a slower tone with flourishing violin and guitar orchestration, as compared to her original. The deeply reflective vibe contrasts the originals happy movements and paints a vivid picture of the veteran looking back at life as she sings "Smiling faces I can see / But not for me." The track is a reminder of the pain Faithfull has gone through, and offers a pinning for happier days. Surprisingly relatable, this is truly a song for the masses with a hopeful strain that the good days will return, sung now with the resonance of age and experience.

Faithfull also revisits the mesmerizing 'Witches Song' from 'Broken English', a track she delivers like one casting a psychedelic magical spell that will make you wish it lasts forever. There's another nod to a classic with her riveting rendition of Bob Dylan's 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue'. The tambourine-flavored track lifts the album with its bright hues. Almost like a lullaby, it is ominous and comforting at the same time as Faithfull steadily rocks the song like a baby.

'In My Own Particular Way' affirms Faithfull is all about love. "I'm ready to love." It's a revelation that although the album reeks with mortality, given the fact that it comes after the composer overcame recent health problems, it is still a celebration of love. The single strums of the guitar and the haunting vocal 'ooos' emote the story of an emotional journey as she sings 'It's taken me a long time to learn. In fact, my whole life."


There's a mood change in the only track that deviates sonically from the rest of the album. 'They Come At Night', supported by Lanegan, sees some of the darkest tones Faithfull ever hits as she reflects on murders and terrorism in her adopted home, Paris. The rhythm-heavy composition gets louder and louder as the guitar and drums open up. The instrumentation, heavily-infused with a siren-esque tone, brings the only sign of chaos in an otherwise unwavering album. Clearly, an example of how much she has accepted, what happens around her and offering a nod to the album's fitting title.

'Born to Live' slows down the tempo. It is also a moment to remember all the friendships she's lost over the years. There're more tears in the raspy voice as she sings a moving eulogy to the late Anita Pallenberg and wishes for "A good death". Faithfull never loses hope though as she sings steered only by a simple piano four-note loop: "We're born to love. / We're all the same". Penultimate track 'Don't Go' also mourns another departed friend, Martin Stone, with the violin reinforcing the melancholic tones before the album closer. 


The melancholy hits a high note with the Harcourt-supported moving 'No Moon In Paris' as she sums up: "It's lonely and that's all I got". A song about loneliness, yes, but also one that sees Faithfull complete her wholesome reflection on her remarkable life. "It’s been a real journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself and other people. It’s loneliness, but actually love is what it’s really about," she wraps up.

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.