Album Review: Marianne Faithfull’s ‘Vagabond Ways’ [Expanded Edition]

Marianne Faithfull’s Vagabond Ways receives a long-awaited CD, digital and vinyl reissue this week, with the 1999 album consisting of the singer’s first album of original material released since her Angelo Badalamenti produced A Secret Life LP in 1994. During this gap, Faithfull released her take on Kurt Weill opera The Seven Deadly Sins and her autobiography Faithfull – with many of the tracks taking a somewhat autobiographical stance also. You can pre-order Vagabond Ways (Expanded Edition) here.

The opening title track sees Faithfull croon the asserting opening lines “Oh, doctor please, oh, doctor please / I drink and I take drugs, I love sex and I move around a lot / I had my first baby at fourteen / And yes, I guess I do have vagabond ways…” with Faithfull’s familiar rasp racked in human experience settling against piano-driven production. Followed by Roger Waters penned Incarceration of a Flower Child, is a haunting emotional plea with Faithfull at her most impassioned, the track thematically feeling like a sequel to Sister Morphine. Some curious electronic effects in the final minute feel dated, but the timbre of Faithfull’s vocals is timeless.

Faithfull co-writes File It Under Fun from the Past with long-standing collaborator Barry Reynolds, a sparsely instrumented wistful ode to unrequited love. String arrangements take centre stage on this nostalgic number which Faithfull sings with a breathy resignation. Electra rightfully asserts Faithfull as the Grand Dame of Rock n’ Roll with the singer joined by rousing guitar instrumentation as she contemplates the woman in the mirror: “I know that woman in the mirror / Not quite yours and not quite mine / Who she is can’t say for sure / Could be from another tide.” Another Faithfull composition, Wilder Shores of Love hears the singer joined by bold electric guitar and percussion, and somewhat distracting roaring tide sound effects. The track uses the metaphor of wild shores to compare a turbulent love affair, which Faithfull sells with conviction. Marathon Kiss, not penned by Faithfull but Daniel Lanois, sees the artist tackle a tender romance exploring the wistful chemistry and transporting spirit of a kiss: “I cherished the night of your marathon kiss.” It’s refreshingly romantic and optimistic number lacking the weary pathos that some may expect.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin penned For Wanting You follows, a track which Pitchfork incorrectly labelled as ‘unbearable’. The track is a luscious, poetic number with rich imagery including “Like some virgin with her cloth / I play the goddess coming through / Now I play the parting slave / All for wanting you…” capturing the entrapment of a turbulent love. The track is a perfect fit for Faithfull who delivers it with the emotionally-charged, pained animosity that it deserves. Great Expectations feels like the most ‘nineties’ piece on the album with its dated keyboards, yet lyrically it is one of the most interesting numbers as Faithfull hazily recounts memories of the past, noting “My recollection is not too clear / So much hope and so much fear…” A slightly funky take on Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song follows with smooth delivery from Faithfull, with this rumination on the role and worth of an ageing singer-songwriter translating well into Faithfull’s own story. Spoken word finale After the Ceasefire acts as a precursor to Faithfull’s recent album She Walks in Beauty but instead tackling the romantic poets, Faithfull’s tale is a dark, unsettling one not centred on love, but death.

Bonus track Blood In My Eyes, previously a Japanese exclusive, now features on this Expanded Edition of Vagabond Ways with Faithfull joined by harmonica and guitar on this bluesy Bob Dylan cover. Faithfull and Dylan wonderfully go hand in hand with the singer previously sharing “He was my existential hero, the gangling Rimbaud of rock, and I wanted to meet him more than any other living being.” This makes a nice companion to some of the other previous Faithfull Dylan covers such as It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. The previously unreleased Drifting features on the LP, with the singer joined by sparse, jazz-centred instrumentation. It has a late night cabaret feel, with the image of Faithfull in a Parisian night-club stage springing to mind as she sings pained lyrics such as “I’m drowning with a heavy heart of steel /
I’m drowning from not knowing what is real.”

Intriguing demos versions of Vagabond Ways, Incarceration of a Flower Child, Electra and Tower of Song will provide some interest for purists, who are likely to relish the slight production differences.

It is a delight to have Vagabond Ways released in such an expanded form. The album is an important one in Faithfull’s career, one that marks the introduction to the singer’s more contemporary, poignantly world-weary sound – prominent on albums such as Before the Poison, Easy Come Easy Go, Give My Love to London and Negative Capability amongst others.

You can pre-order Vagabond Ways (Expanded Edition) here.

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