Marianne Faithfull

We paid import price for this -- it was out in the U.K. in January, released here last month -- and still, it was a bargain. The onetime Rolling Stones sleeping bag best known for a handful of cult releases and a stint sleeping in the street with a needle in her arm returns with a handful of young men at her arm and, likely, her feet; never has a pop goddess weathered so much abuse and self-abuse and yet emerged more desirable. This is her best album since she sang in Broken English, which was made around the time most of her new collaborators -- among them Beck, Blur, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, and Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan -- were in elementary school; here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Damon loves you more than you will know.

Faithfull knows it too, which is why she opens the latest comeback with "Sex with Strangers," an ode to anonymous doin' it written by and performed with Beck; "bored, you thought you'd try a little danger," she offers, and it's a compelling invite. So too is "I'm on Fire," on which she and Corgan shove a bed onto the dance floor, though, blessedly, the Great Pumpkin lets Ms. Faithfull write in the sheets by her lonesome. Though the Blur title track, all Britpop till ya drop and ya don't stop, bests any of Albarn's side projects -- time to quit monkeying around, dude -- it's Beck who brings out the best in Faithfull: "Like Being Born" might as well be titled "Like Being Born Again" (it recalls her 1960s halcyon heyday, when tears went by), and her cover of "Nobody's Fault" is haunting and harrowing and heartbreaking where his was, well, just haunting.

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