Original released on LP Island ILPS 9570
(US 1979, November 2)
"Broken English" is the seventh studio album by English singer Marianne Faithfull. The album marked a major comeback for Faithfull after years of drug abuse, homelessness, and suffering from anorexia. It is often regarded as her "definitive recording" and Faithfull herself described it as her "masterpiece". "Broken English" was Faithfull's first major release since her album "Love in a Mist" (1967). After ending her relationship with Mick Jagger in 1970 and losing custody of her son, Faithfull's career went into a tailspin as she suffered from heroin addiction and lived on the streets of London. Severe laryngitis, coupled with persistent drug abuse during this period, permanently altered Faithfull's voice, leaving it cracked and lower in pitch. She attempted to make a comeback in 1976 with the release of "Dreamin' My Dreams", which noted only a small success. Shortly afterwards, Faithfull began working with musician Barry Reynolds who initially produced the songs "Broken English" and "Why D'Ya Do It?". The demos attracted the attention of Chris Blackwell who signed Faithfull to his record label Island Records.
Faithfull's immediately preceding albums, "Dreamin' My Dreams" and "Faithless", had been in a relatively gentle folk or country and western style. "Broken English" was a radical departure, featuring a contemporary fusion of rock, punk, new wave and dance, with liberal use of synthesizers. After years of cigarette smoking, Faithfull's voice was in a lower register, far raspier, and had a more world-weary quality than in the past that matched the often raw emotions expressed in the newer songs. The backing band of Barry Reynolds, Joe Mavety (guitars), Steve York (bass) and Terry Stannard (drums) had been formed in 1977 to tour Ireland with Faithfull promoting "Dreamin' My Dreams". Marianne Faithfull recounted how Mark Mundy was brought on as the album's producer: «I don't think I could have handled "Broken English" without a producer. You can't imagine what it was like. There I am with no respect at all within the music business. ...So I found somebody who wanted the break, and that was Mark Mundy. He wanted to be a record producer, and he had some great ideas.»
The album's title track took inspiration from terrorist figures of the time, particularly Ulrike Meinhof of the Baader-Meinhof group. "Guilt" was informed by the Catholic upbringing of the singer and her composer Barry Reynolds. "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan", originally performed by Dr Hook, is a melancholy tale of middle class housewife's disillusionment; Faithfull's version became something of an anthem and was used on the soundtracks to the films Montenegro (1981) and Thelma & Louise (1991). "What’s the Hurry?" was described by Faithfull as reflecting the everyday desperation of the habitual drug user. Her cover of John Lennon’s "Working Class Hero" was recorded as a tribute to her own heroes such as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and Lennon himself.
The last track, the six-and-a-half-minute "Why'd Ya Do It?", is a caustic, graphic rant of a woman reacting to her lover's infidelity. The lyrics began with the man's point of view, relating the bitter tirade of his cheated-on lover. It was set to a grinding tune inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s recording of Bob Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower". Poet and writer Heathcote Williams had originally conceived the lyrics as a piece for Tina Turner to record, but Faithfull succeeded in convincing him that Turner would never record such a number. Its plethora of four-letter words and explicit references to oral sex caused controversy and led to a ban in Australia. Local pressings omitted the track and instead included a 'bonus' 7" single of the extended version of "Broken English". The ban did not extend to import copies, and the song was also played unedited on the Government-funded Double Jay radio station and Brisbane community broadcaster 4ZZZ. It wasn't until 1988 when Island re-released the album in Australia that "Why D'Ya Do It" was finally included.
The album was recorded at Matrix Studios in London. Faithfull collaborated with producer Mark Miller Mundy with whom she recorded all songs for the album. After having the whole album recorded, he suggested that the music should be "more modern and electronic" and brought in Steve Winwood on keyboards. Musically, "Broken English" is a new wave rock album with elements of other genres, such as punk, blues and reggae. After its release, "Broken English" received critical acclaim. It peaked at number eighty-two on the Billboard 200, becoming her first album to chart in the United States since "Go Away from My World" (1965) and giving Marianne Faithfull a first nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. In the United Kingdom, it reached number fifty-seven and was also successful worldwide peaking into the top five in countries, such in Germany, France and New Zealand. "Broken English" was certified platinum in Germany and France and sold over one million copies worldwide. Two singles were released from the album, with "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" peaking at number forty-eight on the UK Singles Chart. The album was included on NME magazine's list of "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" and in the book "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die".
This deluxe reissue was released in a cardboard sleeve and features the original album remastered by Jared Hawkes with the first disc consisting only of the original album along with a 12-minute film directed by Derek Jarman. The film was designed to be shown in theaters and had never been released for home video before. The second disc features the original mix of the album which, in some cases, sound quite a bit different and, in the case of "Why'd Ya Do It" runs nearly two minutes longer than the album version. Supplemented by single edits, 7, 12 inch remixes and Faithfull's re-recorded version of "Sister Morphine", which had previously appeared on a 12-inch release, the second disc with the original mix was Faithfull's preferred mix of the album. The original mix receives its release for the very first time as part of this reissue. The spoken word track "The Letter" (not to be confused with the song by The Box Tops and Joe Cocker) is not included as it was recorded after the album was completed even though it did appear in some countries on the b-side of the 12 inch remix for "Broken English" (the single also included "Sister Morphine"). The 24 page booklet includes photos of the various sleeves and album cover variations that appeared in different countries.