Before the Poison
Back when these OGs (Original Groupies) were the young, leggy goddesses at whose feet the Almost Famous “Band Aids” likely worshipped, a band more famous than all of them suggested that we get by with a little help from our friends. ‘Twas ever thus for these two muses-slash-artists, known as much for who they knew as for who they were and what they sang. Of course, that ultimately didn’t diminish their music, and now that they’re old enough to have aesthetic protégés, the students are hooking up the teachers.
When we last saw Faithfull, she was providing mightily unfortunate backing vocals to “The Memory Remains” from Metallica’s Reload. On Before the Poison, she’s hanging out with a deeper shade of pale, namely Polly Harvey, who does most of the heavy lifting here, and Nick Cave, whose goth vibe clearly owes a great deal to the divine Miss M. Harvey never had a Jagger to call her own, so she invented herself; and the grimy, blues-black nuggets she pounds into onyx armor for Faithfull are song-for-song stronger than Harvey’s own 2004 album, Uh Huh Her. She and Faithfull give the Uh Huhtrack “No Child of Mine” the depth of field Harvey’s own version lacks, and Faithfull’s scorched voice makes “The Mystery of Love” and “My Friends Have” sound like the ghosts of Harvey future. But Cave’s songs are a little too pitch-perfect (he’s clearly been primping for this moment for years), and Damon Albarn’s “Last Song” just sounds misplaced, an acoustic sketch of broken park life.
Nancy Sinatra is an altogether less dour affair, but not because its maker was ever the sex kitten her walking boots suggested. As her current benefactor Morrissey would no doubt swear, Nancy Sin has always had a weird streak. The baroque, late-’60s West Coast pop she created with drugstore cowboy Lee Hazlewood (who doesn’t appear here) was easily as strange, in its own twangy, spacious way, as Faithfull’s late-’70s and ’80s decadent, smacked-out fever dreams. It’s a light, ductile weirdness, and nearly all the contributing acolytes here play to it well. Jarvis Cocker’s “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” and “Baby’s Coming Back to Me” are flawless orchestral pop (Pulp’s lanky genius clearly needs a fulltime chanteuse). But the highlight, naturally, is Morrissey’s “Let Me Kiss You.” When Nancy sings, “Close your eyes and think of someone you physically admire / And let me kiss you,” over a cascade of Smiths guitar gloss, our hearts break at the forbidden love between teacher and student, between fabulous women and the men that adore them from afar. Now, where’s that Anita Pallenberg album we’ve been waiting for?
Grades: Faithfull, B+; Sinatra, B