Music

Marianne Faithfull: Horses and High Heels

Faithfull’s 23rd album is one of her finest releases.


Marianne Faithfull

Horses and High Heels

US Release: 2011-02-15
Label: Dramatico
UK Release Date: 2011-03-07
Amazon
iTunes

Marianne Faithfull’s last record,Easy Come, Easy Go (2008), was an ambitious double album of covers that featured an extraordinary roll call of guest artists and ranged widely through musical genres, finding space for songs by Dolly Parton, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Judee Sill, Duke Ellington, Morrissey, Espers, Merle Haggard and many more. In terms of quality control, Easy Come, Easy Go was, like much of Faithfull’s recorded output, an erratic release, one that lurched wildly from the sublime (Faithfull and Nick Cave tackling The Decemberists’ “The Crane Wife”) to the ridiculous (a truly bizarre cover of Bernstein/Sondheim’s “Somewhere (A Place For Us)” with Jarvis Cocker). But the album nonetheless generated a cumulative excitement as Faithfull and her collaborators somehow turned the record's melange of folk, blues, jazz, country and contemporary rock songs into something resembling a cohesive statement. Uniting the diverse material was, of course, Faithfull’s distinctive smoky croak, with its strange, singular mixture of punky defiance, folky intimacy and Dietrich-esque hauteur.

Faithfull returns with a somewhat lower-key release in Horses and High Heels, her 23rd solo album. Produced again by Hal Willner and recorded in the New Orleans French Quarter, the record features four songs co-written by Faithfull and eight cover tracks, including a song written especially for her by the playwright Frank McGuinness. The roster of big-name collaborators has been significantly trimmed (oh, but wait! There’s Lou Reed on guitar! And Dr. John! And MC5’s Wayne Kramer!), but the album makes the most of the talents of some crack New Orleans musicians, including Carlo Nuccio on drums, George Porter Jr. on bass and Bob Andrews on keyboards. There’s a palpable Crescent City vibe to many of the tracks, and in its merging of blues, soul and rock influences, the record is close in spirit to an album such as Bettye LaVette’s contemporary classic I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005). One of Faithfull’s most consistently engaging releases, Horses and High Heels is strong enough to withstand that particular comparison.

Faithfull has described Horses and High Heels as an atypical release for her, in that “it’s a very happy record. I’m not depressed anymore … So I suppose this album is a bit of a breakthrough”. The galvanizing take on The Gutter Twins' “The Stations” that opens the record doesn’t really bear out that statement. It’s a wonderfully portentous and atmospheric beginning, with Faithfull intoning the mysterious lyrics against twitchy, chiming guitar and mournful violin: “I hear the rapture’s coming/They say he’ll be here soon/Right now there’s demons crawling/All around my room”. There’s nothing feel-good about the following track either, the straight-up break-up lament “Why Did We Have To Part?” which Faithfull penned with Laurent Voulzy. The lyrics are a touch prosy but there’s a straightforward candor to the song and to Faithfull’s performance that’s ineffably touching.

Subsequent tracks are more diverse in tone and mood, however. For starters, there’s the rollicking juke-joint swagger of Jackie Lomax‘s “No Reason” and surprisingly charming takes on Joe & Ann’s “Gee Baby” and Allen Toussaint’s “Back In Baby’s Arms”. The redemptive “Prussian Blue”, meanwhile, is one of the loveliest things that Faithfull has ever written and despite a rather weak vocal that’s buried too low in the mix, the spiritual power of the song still comes through loud and clear. Strings, harp, woodwind and piano underscore Faithfull’s delivery of The Shangri-Las’ “Past Present Future”; it’s a brazenly kitsch but strangely effective interpretation.

Two songs co-written with Doug Pettibone -- the Celtic-tinged title track and the appealing, up-tempo "Eternity" (complete with sample from Brian Jones’ 1968 Morroccan recordings) -- both feel fresh and vital, while McGuinness’ “The Old House” is a stellar closer to the album, building from a stately opening to a sensational guitar-heavy finish that then cuts out abruptly, leaving the listener hungry for more.

Though Faithfull can certainly hold her own with a full band, it’s arguably the quieter moments on Horses and High Heels that cut the deepest. Her reading of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Goin’ Back” (most widely known through Dusty Springfield’s commanding version) goes far beyond melodrama: it’s understated and moving, with Faithfull digging deeply into the soul of the song. The same goes for a spare and poignant rendering of Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” that boasts perhaps the album’s most affecting vocal performance. “Love is the key we must turn/Truth is the flame we must burn/Freedom is the lesson we must learn” Faithfull instructs, and the lines sound like very hard-won wisdom indeed.

In sum, the strong and seamless mixture of new and old material on Horses and High Heels makes the record one of Faithfull’s finest releases. It's a rewarding and accomplished piece of work from an artist who continues to intrigue and surprise.

8
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.