- 30 Apr 21
Warren Ellis is (at least) half responsible for what is probably 2021’s best album, the mighty Carnage with old mate and foil Nick Cave. Marianne Faithfull’s last record Negative Capability – which Ellis was all over – is, perhaps, her greatest achievement, and at least the equal of the celebrated Broken English, so putting the two of them back together again was never going to be less than interesting.
She Walks In Beauty certainly is that, although it’s unlikely to appeal to everyone, for it is an album of poetry; Byron, Wordsworth, and all the rest, set to Ellis’ stately atmospherics. Indeed, as the album gently heaves into view and hearing, one might easily be mistaken for thinking they are listening to some as yet undiscovered Carnage cut, until Ms. Faithfull arrives, that is. Cave and Brian Eno also help out, although this is Ellis' recognisable domain, with Eno’s digital contributions being particularly effective behind Thomas Hood’s decrying of a homeless woman’s lonely death in ‘The Bridge Of Sighs’. "One of Eve's family... Who was her father, who was her mother... or was there dearer one still and a nearer one yet, than all others?"
Faithfull’s lived-in, aristocratic tones are perfect for the recitation of this class of fare, and it should go without saying that the couplets presented are amongst the very finest the language has to offer. From the first rock star Lord Byron’s immortal paean to pulchritude ‘She Walks In Beauty’ - a deathless lyric that would-be romantic chancers have been utilising in pursuit of seductive success for some two hundred years - to Shelley musing on mutability and calling on lesser mortals to look at his works and despair in ‘Ozymandias. From an epic reading of Tennyson’s ‘Lady Of Shallot’, that mystery woman down the river from Camelot, which floats on an apogee of Ellis' magical and delicate work, to Wordsworth’s elegy for his young daughter Catherine, “long buried in the tomb”, ‘Surprised By Joy’.
There's more Byron - and I, for one, would argue that you can never have enough George Gordon - in 'So We'll Go No More A Roving', a title that Cave must have at least borrowed from before. This short poem was published after Byron's death and in it he bemoans how "the sword outwears its sheath, and the soul wears out the breast". Time catches up on us all, we must curtail our late nights "though the heart be still as loving, and the moon be still as bright". All acolytes of Dionysus must eventually hang up their cloak, their revels must, one day, be ended. There is surely something of Faithfull in this, as there is surely something of us all.
Faithfull’s Negative Capability took its title from Keats’ definition of a pursuit of beauty in art with little consideration for the intellectual uncertainty such a pursuit might engender, i.e. artistic truth without regard for logic. The logical response when presented with an album of poetry might be to politely demur, but to do so would be to miss out on a quite beautiful piece of art. Merci à la belle dame.