Faithfull Brings PJ, Cave

P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave guest on new record

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Marianne Faithfull will release Before the Poison in January. As with 2002's electronica-influenced Kissin' Time -- a star-studded affair with help from Beck and Billy Corgan -- the veteran chanteuse and London scenester has enlisted a cadre of guest writers and producers, including P.J. Harvey, Nick Cave, Damon Albarn and Jon Brion.

"I'm very much a child of my time," Faithfull, now 57, says about the relationship to her relatively younger collaborators. "They know what they want, and they do it. I'm afraid. I'm a bit more roundabout, but I'm getting better."

Harvey produced five of the album's tracks, including the simmering rocker and album opener "The Mystery of Love" and the haunting "No Child of Mine," which finds Faithfull speaking and then singing the lyrics in her sandpapery voice. The song shifts in its final moment, from a ghostly ballad to a foot-stomping folksy romp, complete with handclaps and staccato guitar strumming. Harvey, who sings backup, included the one-minute fragment on her most recent album Uh Huh Her. "I love those connections," Faithfull says with enthusiasm.

"I wanted to hear Marianne singing in a way I hadn't before," Harvey says. "So I wrote pieces that would require her to sing a lot higher than she would naturally, and require her to really belt out with her voice.

"She has incredible creativity, but it's very unordered," Harvey adds with a laugh. "I'm the opposite -- I'm almost too ordered -- so we balanced each other very well, and she freed me up."

Cave contributed three disparate tracks, including "Crazy Love," with its decadent string-arrangement, and the rollicking, rambunctious "Desperanto," which finds Faithfull almost rapping over a propulsive rock song. "When Marianne asked me to write the music, the first thing that went through my mind was, 'I'm going to write music for her that will allow her voice to breathe,'" Cave says. "And she's a singer . . . She's really good. She knew exactly when it was right and when it was wrong. She was in total mastery of things."

While she may have earned a reputation as an autobiographical writer -- both in her lyrics and her 2000 memoir, Faithfull -- Faithfull says this record focuses on the world's political and social climate. "Some of it is about in me, but most of it is about out there," she explains. "'Before the Poison' is me imagining what it would be like to be in a poisonous gas attack . . . I took it very literally. The working title was beautiful: it was The Mystery of Love. But then in the end I decided it wasn't strong enough . . . A Marianne Faithfull record has got to say something."

Faithfull has kept herself busy playing the devil in The Black Rider, a play directed by Robert Wilson and written by William S. Burroughs, with music by Tom Waits. But she says that after her acting stint (the play goes to Sydney in January), she will take a band on the road, with plans for a North American tour in March. But because of her storied past, it's difficult for Faithfull to get a visa to tour. "I'm really up there on the level of wickedness with, like, a Nazi or a pedophile!" she quips.

Despite weighing heavily on her album, Faithfull says the political climate has not dampened her spirits. "I'm very calm and full of real well-being," she announces, laughing, "which is good because I've got a lot of work to do."

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