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MUSICIANS: Diane Birch, Frankie Collins, Jim Cuomo, Guy Humphries, Joe Mavety, Maurice Pert, Barry Reynolds, Terry Stannard, Darryl Way, Steve Winwood, Steve York
ALL VOCALS: Marianne Faithfull
No information available as to instruments played
Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English" was released during 1979, and unless there is an error on the everyhit.com website, it failed to make the UK album charts. "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan" was released as the promotional single from the album, and it too appears not to have entered the UK top 40 singles charts (my source of information again being everyhit.com). It surprises me greatly that neither the album nor the single charted, as "Broken English" has gone down as one of the classic albums of all time, and most people seem to really like "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan".
Marianne Faithfull hit the scene with this album after many years of lying low. She was famous in the 1960s for being an upper-class young socialite, and girlfriend of Mick Jagger. I won't elaborate on stories involving wild parties and Mars Bars here, as I'd prefer not to get banned from DooYoo, suffice it to say that I'm not sure how much truth there is in those stories anyway - but it matters not to me one way or the other.
During the mid-1960s, Marianne Faithfull (largely promoted by Mick Jagger) had some moderate singles and album chart success, epitomising all that was squeaky clean by her innocent, youthful, long blonde-haired appearance and rather high-pitched, chirpy singing voice. She later struggled for some years with heroin addiction, and in 1979 emerged with the album "Broken English", on which the pure-sounding young voice had turned into a deep, harsh, gravelly noise, delivering to us some rather blunt, hard-hitting songs from the darker side of life.
I first became aware of "Broken English" via the now departed and much missed Alexis Korner's evening programme on Radio 2 back in 1978/1979 where he plugged this very adult album quite hard - and I'm really glad he did, as it's one of my all-time favourites.
Here comes the track-by-track review.....skip to the end if you don't like it.
***WARNING: THIS ALBUM CONTAINS VERY STRONG LANGUAGE AND VERBAL ADULT IMAGERY THAT COULD OFFEND SOME PEOPLE, AND IS NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN***
1) BROKEN ENGLISH
This track begins heavy and thudding, with a rather sparkly guitar strum repeating in the background....then in comes Marianne Faithfull's voice. I believe this song is an anti-war song....I'm not sure if it's about any specific war - perhaps just war in general. There's a lot of questioning in the song.... "what are you fighting for, it's not my family, not my security". Unfortunately some of the words are indistinguishable, and they aren't printed on the CD sleeve, which is a shame because it would be good to hear what they are supposed to be. The song pretty much carries on in the same vein - a bit desperate-sounding, but also sleazy and dirty too.
2) WITCH'S SONG
This starts off with a nice, laid-back and pleasant guitar strumming, with drums gently playing behind. There is a windrush sort of noise, possibly done on a synthesizer, then in comes Marianne's gravelly voice. This is a fairly slow song with an interesting tune, and though like the last song I can't understand all of the words, I feel it could be about tuning into the "earth mother" thing, or paganism to send out the necessary energies towards putting the world to rights. Of course I could be wrong - that's just how I personally interpret the few words I can understand. There are references to "mother" and "father" in the song, and I'm not sure if this is meant in a universal, or a one-to-one sense. It's a pleasant song - a little dirty/sleazy-sounding, but much gentler than no.1 above.
3) BRAIN DRAIN
This begins with gentle but sleazy organ which backs some nice slidy guitar, then launches into a dirty, slow and drawly song, with Marianne's voice sounding a little desperate. The song literally is about the "brain drain" - a thing we don't seem to hear about nowadays, if in fact it ever truly existed. I love the guitar on this track which continues pretty much through the whole track as it was in the intro. Marianne's voice is very soulful on this song, nice & dirty in an almost Janis Joplin style. Though the first half of the song is possibly about the real "brain drain", the second half seems to liken a faulty romantic relationship to a "brain drain"; a relationship that the singer wants to end but can't seem to.
A little synthesized note opens this track, then Marianne's voice comes in.....quiet, but earthy and gravelly. This is a song, as the title suggests, all about guilt. The subject of the song feels a huge barrel of non-specific guilt - has never done anything wrong, never stolen, never lied, but still feels that awful burden of being responsible for all that's wrong in the world. After the quiet intro, the song lazily drifts into medium tempo funky arrangement that's quite interesting in the way the synthesizer, drums, sax, electric piano, guitar and Marianne's voice blend with one another. This is a song of the night....a city at night, where cars swish by on wet roads that are sparkling from overhead neon signs and street lamps, and winds down to a close with a very nice funky riff on all instruments, and some superb soulful sax.
5) THE BALLAD OF LUCY JORDAN
This begins with a rather poignant, yet tense-sounding synthesizer, and Marianne's voice comes in to sing this song which most people over a certain age will know well. It has quite a good tune - edgy and slightly unnerving, carrying a mood of something dark about to happen. Lucy Jordan is a bored housewife, in her late 30s, who has just had enough. She sits reminiscing about her childhood, wondering what she can do with her pointless existence - her husband is at work, the kids are at school, and she has romantic fantasies of running naked down the street - then her mood drops to desperation as she realises that the best part of her life appears to be over. As the day draws into evening, she has had enough, climbs onto the rooftop jumps to her death. At last her fantasy is fulfilled, as she is driven through the streets of Paris in a long white car - presumably an ambulance, or a hearse. A dark and depressing, agitating song, but nonetheless a classic, and brilliant.
6) WHAT'S THE HURRY
The beginning of this song sounds almost identical to Blondie's "Call Me". Marianne's voice growls out the main tune; I have to say here I am very vague about the subject matter of the song, so can't elaborate on it. There are some nice electronic sounds in the song, an interesting drumbeat and some lovely guitar-work. It's a fairly upbeat, up-tempo song with dark undertones; again a song which conveys the mood of cities at night. There's rather a nice slidey guitar break in the middle, with a few twiddles - not Mark Knopfler or Hendrix quality, but good all the same. I just wish I knew what the song is supposed to be about, but it sounds good.
7) WORKING CLASS HERO
This track begins with heavy pounding on bass guitar, as it opens this rather superb cover version of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero". The words, as I'm sure all who are familiar with Lennon's original version, are a statement on the working classes - their start in life, how they go on to use what's been drummed into their heads, to live kind of half-lives because of never having been given the chance to be otherwise. John Lennon was partly referring to himself when he wrote this song, he being the ultimate working class hero. That wonderful line....... "keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, and you think you're so clever and classless and free......" (I won't type the next bit as it'd be censored!!). Marianne does this song proud, as do all the musicians who create a very dramatic backdrop of collected musical sounds. "There's room at the top, they are telling you still....but first you must learn to smile as you kill...." Marianne sings these words with equal bite to how John did, but her delivery is slightly more aggressive-sounding. I am generally not a fan of cover versions, but this one is superb.
8) WHY D'YA DO IT
Wow! This is my favourite track on the album. It begins with heavy strummed guitar, slightly fuzzed up, then all the other instruments join in. Marianne then belts out this incredibly harsh song of bitterness felt over being let down by a lover. The images created in the words are wonderful; not cruel exactly, and not revengeful - they are more a profound and hard-hitting verbal expression of retaliation. On a personal note, and without going into too much detail, this is a song which spoke to me personally quite a few years ago, when a person I was incredibly fond of had a thing with somebody else. When I found out what had been going on behind my back, I just couldn't get this song out of my head. I so very much want to type out some of the words, but those that I do and which have the most meaning, are completely unprintable. It's a song of hurt, passion, pain, searing love and searing anger - all rolled into a big ball of sleazy-sounding madness and sadness. This truly is one of my all-time favourite songs - not just on this album, but across the board.
As a whole, "Broken English" has a slight feel of The Stones' "Some Girls" about it. The musical content has a similar mood, although "Broken English" is ultimately harsher. "Some Girls" I feel is much more immediately vulnerable, whereas "Broken English" has a nihilistic flavour to it.
I re-assert my warning above in that some of the language on the album isn't suitable for minors or those who are easily offended.
As well as the language content which spills heavily into raw Anglo-Saxon mode here and there, this is an out & out adult album in other ways. The instrumental arrangements and the dark, sleazy, direct mood of the whole album isn't something I feel would largely appeal to younger people - when I say younger people, I mean perhaps under-20s. It's just not pretty enough!
"Broken English" is available on Amazon priced from £4.14 (new) and from £4.13 (used), but it isn't clear if this is for the old vinyl version, or whether it's on CD or DVD. You can download the album as an mp3 file for £4.37 at the Amazon Downloads Store.
I have had a look on E-Bay, and have found a 1989-released re-working of "Broken English" is available on CD with a starting price of £1.99, and will be available for the next 3 days & 20 hours (it is now 12:04am, 14.1.09) ....one bid has already been made!
To summarise, I feel that "Broken English" is a real classic, a one-off gem which would greatly compliment any open-minded adult's music collection.
Thanks for reading!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Broken English
2 Witches' Song
3 Brain Drain
5 The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
6 What's The Hurry
7 Working Class Hero
8 Why'd Ya Do It