A Very Fine Love, Columbia CD CK-67053
A Secret Life Island, CD 314-524 096-2
Two early rock divas return
In the 1960's, there were precious few opportunities for women
to build lasting careers in the pop music business. Two of the
most distinctive voices of the era, Marianne Faithfull and Dusty
Springfield, have survived and recently released new albums. At
fifty-six, Dusty Springfield is just seven years older then Marianne
Faithfull, but their initial successes spanned a decade that changed
the face of popular music. Both new albums reflect these women
as talents who are products of their times.
Dusty Springfield is perhaps best known for "I Only Want
To Be With You", and her triumphant Dusty In Memphis
album, which featured "Son of a Preacher Man." Although
she has sporadically released records (recently working with the
Pet Shop Boys), it would be fair to say she hasn't had much of
a career as of late. Recent soundtrack recordings have revived
interest in her, and A Very Fine Love is a major-label
push for a comeback. Unfortunately, the record plays it way too
safe, resulting in a mix of bland, faceless pop from the former
queen of blue-eyed soul.
Most songs on the album seem inspired by the lamest Bonnie Raitt
efforts, hiding Dusty's voice behind calculatedly inoffensive
guitar licks and insipid love songs. The idea of pairing her with
Daryl Hall for "Wherever Would I Be" must have looked
good on paper-"The former king and queen of blue-eyed soul
together for the first time." The duet is a nice showcase
for their respective treatments of R'n'B singing, but a generic
synthesizer backing drives the tune straight into MOR oblivion.
Springfield starts to strut her stuff in the title track, but
any earthy impulses are quickly buried by synth-strings and the
song quickly fades out. The result is an album devoid of personality.
It took several concentrated listenings to notice that Springfield
is actually doing some fine singing behind the weak material.
The one happy exception is the closing track, "Where Is a
Woman to Go," with backing vocals by Mary Chapin Carpenter
and K.T. Oslin. A gospel-tinged honky-tonk weeper, this song swoops
and wails with the refrain "Where is a woman to go when she's
feelin' low, and all she wants to do is feel a little bit better".
The answer, of course, is a bar. Hand the bartender a ten, get
back a stack of quarters and "play every song on the jukebox
that will make me cry". Lyrically standard fare, but the
three women's voices soar, the Hammond B3 churns, and you gotta
believe. If only the rest of the album were this good.
Marianne Faithfull's early career was mostly in Mick Jagger's
shadow, highlighted by "As Tears Go By" and uncredited
lyric-writing for "Sister Morphine". She re-emerged
a decade and a half ago with Broken English, and it was
clear she had found a mature voice and could be a continuing force.
The punkish rock of that album and its successor, Strange Weather,
re-energized her career, which was then summarized in 1990's live
Blazing Away. In the spring of 1995 she performed on a
brief cabaret tour of Kurt Weill music, and released the unrelated
A Secret Life.
A Secret Life pairs Faithfull with Angelo "Twin Peaks"
Badalamenti in a bold, orchestral sound which somehow stays true
to her decadent visions. Badalamenti provides the moody waves
on which Faithfull's lyrics bleakly surf. Faithfull has always
been the darling of the depressive set, and this is more music
to gargle razor blades by. Cheating housewives worry about keeping
lies straight for hubby and the kids, women live alone so no one
can see they're unhappy, and co-dependents advise their alcoholic
partners that "there's quicker ways of dying." Perhaps
she should meet Morrissey to brighten her life a bit.
The sound is unusual for a pop artist-on most songs there's a
19-piece string section, oboes, guitar, synthesizer and percussion.
The tempos are deliberate and unrushed, as the familiar tales
of betrayal and adultery play out. The controlled croak that thrills
the Faithfull faithful is restrained, pulled back. The album plays
out as a whole; a completely realized vision that seamlessly segues
from one misery to the next.
In case you haven't guessed already, this is not an album for
everyone. The album is bracketed by oddly pretentious spoken-word
segments of passages by Dante and Shakespeare, which serve no
obvious purpose. Still, I'm more than happy to salute a woman
with an uncompromising idea, so completely captured on this CD.
Taken as a pair, these albums serve to remind us of the changes
in societal attitudes and the treatment of artists during the
1960s. Dusty Springfield's first hits were in the early years
of that decade. In the pre-Beatle era, singers were not considered
artists and had little control over what appeared on their albums
or which songs were chosen as singles. By Faithfull's time, recording
artists had begun to assert control. The results can be seen here,
even thirty years later: one singer's skills masked by a faceless
corporate production and the other's emphasized by music she developed
The cover art captures the differences clearly. Springfield's
CD features a painting of a big-hair woman of indeterminate age;
a fifty-six-year-old willing to be mistaken for a mall rat. Generic
product for a talented woman who has somehow become generic herself.
On Faithfull's cover photo, she appears as Edward Scissorhands
might if he cut his own hair-spiky and odd, but with a confident
presence. Inside, she's Dietrich redux, lounging on a couch, with
a cloud of politically incorrect smoke issuing from a cigarette
in a holder, faithful to her vision. --Bill Kuhn
production notes & song titles
Dusty Springfield, vocals, and a cast of thousands.
Produced by Tom Shapiro, mostly, recorded and mixed by Brian Tankersley,
mostly, and mastered by Hank Williams. 1995 release. (41:16)
Roll Away | Fine, Fine, Very Fine Love | Wherever Would I Be |
Go Easy on Me | You Are the Storm | I Can't Help the Way I Don't
Feel | All I Have to Offer You is Love | Lovin' Proof | Old Habits
Die Hard | Where is a Woman to Go
Marianne Faithfull, vocals, with full orchestra.
Produced by Angelo Badalamenti, recorded by Art Pohlemus (vocals,
rhythm tracks) and Gary Chester (strings, woodwinds), mixed by
Gary Chester, mastered by Howie Weinberg. 1995 release. (35:22)
Prologue | Sleep | Love in the Afternoon | Flaming September |
She | Bored by Dreams | Losing | Wedding | Stars Line Up | Epilogue
of related interest
Dusty in Memphis, 1969, Rhino Atlantic 71035-2
Broken English, 1979, Island 42355-2 (37:15)