Broken English is one of those records I heard so damn much about throughout my life that, by the time I listened to it decades after first hearing about, there was going to be a let down, it was inevitable. With multiple listens, the record is growing on me a bit, but it’s still worth wondering why this record is supposed to be an absolute classic.
I think narrative plays a really big part. Marianne Faithful was famous in the ’60s and then she kind of disappeared. Though this was her first record in three years, it was treated by the press as if it was her first record in more than a decade (because apparently everyone ignored the previous one, which came out in 1976). Some of the lyrics are relatively risque, I guess, if you consider her age. And, famously, her voice had changed significantly since those ’60s records (which I have never heard). All of this adds up to a good story.
I’m not sure the songs are really there. The best song here is the cover of “Lucy Jordan” – haven’t heard enough versions of it to know how it compares among all the covers – and the rest of the material, including her cowrites, the songs written for her and the cover of “Working Class Hero” are hit and miss. (I don’t love the Lennon cover, I don’t think it adds anything to the original.)
The arrangements are suitably contemporary on most (but not all) songs, but that means they have dated substantially 40 years later. It’s worth noting that they didn’t entirely commit to the drastic stylistic change from her previous album (a country record) and her earlier career. This is a pet peeve of mine – if you’re going to embrace contemporary music, go all the way. Compare the title track and “Lucy Jordan” with “Witches’ Song” and “Brain Drain” for example. They could be on different records, though they’re not, obviously. And Faithful’s voice, though unique, doesn’t captivate me the way it’s supposed to. (Also, the credits list Steve Winwood on the keys, is he the one responsible for those super synth poppy synthesizers? If os, weird.)
Without the story, which I couldn’t care less about because I was not alive when any of this happened, I don’t get what the big deal is. There are some decent songs, and there are some less memorable ones. Faithful has a unique voice but not a great voice. I guess it was kind of risque to hear a woman singing some of these lyrics in 1979, if you had no idea punk music existed (and female punks existed).