Though there is no musical resemblance, the title track of Marianne Faithfull's Give My Love to London looks back at her brilliant reading of Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's "Pirate Jenny" on her 20th Century Blues album from 1997, and even mentions her by name. Co-written with Steve Earle, who frames her lyrics in an acoustic, Celtic, country stomp, it's a conqueror's last laugh: she's survived the best attempts at securing her demise. (Bouts with cancer and a fall that broke her sacrum in four places among them.) Faithfull's previous four albums in the 21st century have all been strong, but this one tops them. Her writing collaborators here include Nick Cave, Anna Calvi, Ed Harcourt, Patrick Leonard, and Tom McRae. Her bandmates are an all-star unit too, and include Harcourt, Adrian Utley, Dimitri Tikovoi, Rob and Warren Ellis, and strings. Cave co-wrote one song with her (the tender "Deep Water") and one for her: the glorious "Late Victorian Holocaust," the album's hinge piece, a frank, poignant, ballad-cum-theatrical chamber work of junkie camaraderie that draws on their separate experiences of drug addiction and establishes a shared intimate language. Roger Waters, who contributed "Incarceration of a Flower Child" to her 1999 album Vagabond Ways, gives her "Sparrows Will Sing," a swirling, angry anthemic rocker. "Falling Back," co-written with Calvi, is among the most directly autobiographical love songs in Faithfull's catalog. "Mother Wolf" competes with "Late Victorian Holocaust" for the finest track on the set. Co-written with Leonard, its pulse-pounding piano, squalling electric guitars, rumbling tom-toms, viola, and layered backing vocals underscore the snarling militancy in Faithfull's words, delivered with feral intensity in a simple verse/chorus/repeat structure: "We are the free people/We do not kill for pleasure/We are like a starry night/We gaze at the world/Through a thousand eyes…."). The reading of Leonard Cohen's "Going Home" recalls the half-spoken/half-sung delivery (with Brian Eno on backing vocals no less) and places the singer in the place of the subject's muse, observing him without pity or condemnation. Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well" is reinterpreted through the Weimar Republic's cabaret musical vocabulary, too: She's backed by chamber strings, piano, a harp played like a bouzouki, and bass. Faithfull's not only comfortable in this setting (20th Century Blues/Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins, etc), she's an authority in interpreting it. The intimate yet dramatic sadness in this reading completes a series of bridge constructions from the eras in Faithfull's musical past to her present. Thus, Give My Love to London is as complete a portrait of the artist -- at least from the late '70s on -- as we've ever had. In total, it reveals no abatement in her creative renaissance.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek