With Marianne Faithfull, it's always been about the voice -- hoarse and knowing, the wet cough of experience. It made her a pop star in the '60s, a punk-disco diva in the '70s, a rock-jazzbo curio in the '80s and a comeback kid forever-after as she piled on the collaborators (Hal Willner, Billy Corgan, Blur and Beck) to ease her pain. For a while she went Weill in the streets -- and even turned to Goffin-King when she felt really swell -- but she always came back around to rock; there's more catharsis in feedback than a string section, alas. But not till this album (among the best imports of 2004 finally getting proper stateside release) has Faithfull found proper partners with whom she can roll around in the muck: PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and Jon Brion, her holy trinity of rock & roll saviors. Some old farts will insist Broken English is still Faithfull's best record, but that's only because they haven't actually listened to it (much less danced to it) in 25 years.
This is the one that'll stick with you, grow on you, grow in you. This is the one that'll move you and groove you, that'll haunt you and hold you in its desperate grasp after one spin turns into ten, back to back. It's a disc of stark contrasts and stark-raving contradictions, barely tempered punk with Disneyland detours (album-closer "City of Quartz," which sounds like "Stay Awake" sung by a nodding-off junkie) and even a little jungle-boogie funk ("Desperanto," with Cave, furiously shakes its ass to a rabid saxman's squawk) sung by a woman whose new friends "help me shape my crooked features," as she sings on the unbearably catchy Harvey tune "My Friends Have." The love songs are filled with hate, the melancholy moments wear a grin, and even the happiest tunes wield an unexpected fury. Don't know whether it's all meant to be optimistic or a downer, but Marianne Faithfull doesn't mind dying for our sins, over and over again.