It’s not often that a new release can be genuinely startling, but’s that’s the effect Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English had on most listeners when it was first heard in February of 1979. That startling jolt came from both the content and quality of the songs and from Faithfull herself whose voice had morphed from a sweet sixties songbird to a raw, venom-filled croak. In the era just after punk it was just the thrill we were looking for.
Thirty-four years later, Broken English is still startling. This new, two-disc version features the original album on one disc along with three music videos made by filmmaker Derek Jarman. The second disc contains the original album in the form Faithfull had originally wanted the album to come out.
According to the excellent liner notes included, the album was mixed and ready for released when producer Mark Miller Mundy “decided he wanted to give the album a more experimental new wave sound” and brought in Steve Winwood to overdub layers of keyboards and synthesizers. The original mix, which Faithfull preferred, has been lost, until now. And they are something of a revelation.
The versions on the second disc sound more raw, more immediate and have the guitars in the foreground rather than the synths. The differences between the two mixes are more dramatic on some songs rather than others.
The two songs that seem most changed to me are Guilt and The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan. Without the added keyboards, Guilt is starker and more intimate….sounding something like The Doors’ Riders On The Storm.
The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan can now be heard without the constant synth loop the Winwood added and I think it’d better for it. The bubbling bass line does the trick nicely and now it sounds like something from a Leonard Cohen album (by the way, have Leonard and Marianne ever duetted? If not, why?)
Overall, the newly released mix has a harder-edge to it, with the punk influence much more pronounced. I understand why Mundy did what he did, and to a certain extent, he was right, but I think I like this Winwood-free version, better, at least for now…if for no other reason than we get two additional minutes of Why’d Ya Do It.
Other extras include a version of Sister Morphine (the song Marianne wrote with Mick and Keith back in ’69) recorded in the early 80s, along with a few remixes of the title track.
For those who have never heard Broken English, brace yourself and have a listen. Faithfull’s is one of the most cathartic, unnerving, shocking and heart-breaking performance ever recorded. It completely changed the way she was perceived by the public and immediately made her more musically relevant than her old flame Mick Jagger. And listen to her latest albums, you’ll find she still is.
Click here to listen to the original mix of Guilt from Broken English: