Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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BLAZING AWAY (1990)

**

With Marianne Faithfull.
Directed by Larry Jordan.
(Island Home Video, 90 min., color)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

We have a rule of thumb about music video--if the visuals make the music worse, something's wrong. Marianne Faithfull's Blazing Away, based on a 1989 concert at St. Anne's Cathedral in Brooklyn and released simultaneously as a 90-minute concert tape and a 73-minute audio album, is a neat case in point. The two products aren't identical--the video offers otherwise unavailable versions of "Falling From Grace" (tedious), "Blue Millionaire" (mediocre), and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (a keeper), and also omits the supposed "title" tune. But the two programs are essentially the same--except that the audio is better.

That's because the visuals are uninspired, embarrassing, or egregiously cliched. The concert footage is barely adequate--coming at Faithfull at an unvarying angle, with shots of microphone bases and her all-star band for variety and pans of the venue's stained-glass windows for edification. As if dimly aware that this won't wash, director Larry Jordan occasionally illustrates the songs with elementary music-video filmpoems--lots of black-and-white, lots of slo-mo, lots of trees and birds and bridges. He also provides several explanatory interviews, all of which boil down to Faithfull insisting that the song in question is, you know, her.

The thing is, with a singer as raw and intelligent as Faithfull, we believe that more willingly when she doesn't protest so much. The one thing we learned from this tape is how radically insecure our old favorite is. Like a raging, insatiable hunger, her insecurity is in fact the emotional stuff of her ambition and ultimately her music. And the next time we play one of her records, who knows? Maybe that insight will make the music better.

Video Review, June 1990