Broken English is the seventh studio album by English singer Marianne Faithfull (born December 29, 1946). It was released on 2 November 1979 by Island Records. The album marked a major comeback for Faithfull after years of drug abuse, homelessness, and suffering from anorexia. It is often regarded as her “definitive recording” and Faithfull herself described it as her “masterpiece”.
Broken English was Faithfull’s first major release since her album Love in a Mist (1967). After ending her relationship with Mick Jagger in 1970 and losing custody of her son, Faithfull’s career went into a tailspin as she suffered from heroin addiction and lived on the streets of London. Severe laryngitis, coupled with persistent drug abuse during this period, permanently altered Faithfull’s voice, leaving it cracked and lower in pitch. She attempted to make a comeback in 1976 with the release of Dreamin’ My Dreams, which noted only a small success. Shortly afterwards, Faithfull began working with musician Barry Reynolds who initially produced the songs “Broken English” and “Why D’Ya Do It?”. The demos attracted the attention of Chris Blackwell who signed Faithfull to his record label Island Records.
The album was recorded at Matrix Studios in London. Faithfull collaborated with producer Mark Miller Mundy with whom she recorded all songs for the album. After having the whole album recorded, he suggested that the music should be “more modern and electronic” and brought in Steve Winwood on keyboards. Musically, Broken English is a new wave rock album with elements of other genres, such as punk, blues and reggae.
After its release, Broken English received critical acclaim. It peaked at number eighty-two on the Billboard 200, becoming her first album to chart in the United States since Go Away from My World (1965) and giving Marianne Faithfull a first nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. In the United Kingdom, it reached number fifty-seven and was also successful worldwide peaking into the top five in countries, such in Germany, France and New Zealand. Broken English was certified platinum in Germany and France and sold over one million copies worldwide. Two singles were released from the album, with “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” peaking at number forty-eight on the UK Singles Chart. The album was included on NME magazine’s list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Faithfull’s immediately preceding albums, Dreamin’ My Dreams and Faithless, had been in a relatively gentle folk or country and western style. Broken English was a radical departure, featuring a contemporary fusion of rock, punk, new wave and dance, with liberal use of synthesizers. After years of cigarette smoking, Faithfull’s voice was in a lower register, far raspier, and had a more world-weary quality than in the past that matched the often raw emotions expressed in the newer songs.
The backing band of Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety (guitars), Steve York (bass) and Terry Stannard (drums) had been formed in 1977 to tour Ireland with Faithfull promoting Dreamin’ My Dreams.
Marianne Faithfull recounted how Mark Mundy was brought on as the album’s producer: “I don’t think I could have handled Broken English without a producer. You can’t imagine what it was like. There I am with no respect at all within the music business. … So I found somebody who wanted the break, and that was Mark Mundy. He wanted to be a record producer, and he had some great ideas.”
The album’s title track took inspiration from terrorist figures of the time, particularly Ulrike Meinhof of the Baader-Meinhof group. “Guilt” was informed by the Catholic upbringing of the singer and her composer Barry Reynolds. “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”, originally performed by Dr Hook, is a melancholy tale of middle class housewife’s disillusionment; Faithfull’s version became something of an anthem and was used on the soundtracks to the films Montenegro (1981) and Thelma & Louise (1991). “What’s the Hurry?” was described by Faithfull as reflecting the everyday desperation of the habitual drug user. Her cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” was recorded as a tribute to her own heroes such as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and Lennon himself.
The last track, the six-and-a-half-minute “Why’d Ya Do It?”, is a caustic, graphic rant of a woman reacting to her lover’s infidelity. The lyrics began with the man’s point of view, relating the bitter tirade of his cheated-on lover. It was set to a grinding tune inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s recording of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Poet and writer Heathcote Williams had originally conceived the lyrics as a piece for Tina Turner to record, but Faithfull succeeded in convincing him that Turner would never record such a number. Its plethora of four-letter words and explicit references to oral sex caused controversy and led to a ban in Australia. (by wikipedia)
Although the boundaries have shifted in the decades since this album’s release, Broken English has lost none of its trenchant appeal. And despite Courtney Love and many angry grrrl groups using explicit lyrics, Why d’Ya Do It? still sounds fresh, perhaps because it originally was written as a poem by Heathcote Williams. Her version of Lennon’s Working Class Hero sounds as sharp as ever, while the brooding title track is still relevant today. On the melodic side, Lucy Jordan has become quite a standard and could easily be considered a country weepie, while Witches Song remains eerie and anthemic. The sound is typical 80’s rock with tight musicianship supporting this classic monument to decadence and despair. This is probably her best selling album of all time for all the wrong reasons! The other two works from the same period, A Child’s Adventure and Dangerous Acquaintances, are equally excellent and will richly reward the listener. Nevertheless, Broken English stands tall as a masterpiece of broken taboos, subversive poetics and timeless songs. (Peter Uys )
Jim Cuomo (saxophone)
Marianne Faithfull (vocals)
Guy Humphries (guitar)
Joe Mavety (guitar)
Barry Reynolds (guitar)
Morris Pert (percussion)
Terry Stannard (drums)
Steve York (bass)
Darryl Way (violin)
Steve Winwood (keyboards)
Dyan Birch – Frankie Collins – Isabella Dulaney
01. Broken English (Faithfull/Reynold/Mavety/York/Stannard) 3.45
02. Witches’ Song (Faithfull/Reynold/Mavety/York/Stannard) 4.43
03. Brain Drain (Brierley) 4.13
04. Guilt (Reynolds) 5.05
05. The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan (Silverstein) 4.09
06. What’s The Hurry (Mavety) 3.05
07. Working Class Hero (Lennon) 4.40
08. Why D’Ya Do It (William/Reynold/Mavety/York/Stannard/Faithfull) 6.45
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARIANNE FAITHFUL !