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Dusty Springfield
 A Very Fine Love, Columbia CD CK-67053

Marianne Faithfull
 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 in partnership.

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
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
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 Springfield
 Dusty in Memphis, 1969, Rhino Atlantic 71035-2

Marianne Faithfull
 Broken English, 1979, Island 42355-2 (37:15)

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.