You know Patti Smith seems to attract clichés like wet paint attracts bugs;
High Priestess of Punk, First Lady of Punk, Queen of Punk .. etc .. etc..
I never got it.
A poet? – Yes.
A Rock & Roll swagger? – Definitely.
The D.I.Y ethos of Punk? – A qualified Yes.
But Punks pretentious and impotent flailing? – Nah.
This Album was one I prepared earlier. But in my wanderings around the net I came across a pretty scathing review of the album. It was well-reasoned piece, nicely written and I thought Oh! Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t such a great Album after all. So I shelved it. But you know the other day I was listening to it on my way to the hardware store and I thought, No! I was right all along. It is a great Album and it belongs at week 15.
That said it’s not universally good and for my taste (which you can take with a grain of salt) there’s a smattering of dross.
She kicks off strongly with Gone Again. I like the way she mixes it up with spoken word verse. Then the middle passage which is almost freeform rhyme. Then back to the refrain with its evocative imagery: “We shoot our flint into the Sun, We bless our spoils and we’re gone, we’re gone”.
Beneath the Southern Cross is a big song. For me it listens like a chant, a meditation of sorts. The Jingly-Jangly guitar chiming like church bells all the way to Sunday. It’s a farewell to her husband, full of the moment but without self-pity. There are a some beautiful lines in this song that just leap out at you; “who walked the curve of the world” and “where Gods get lost … beneath the Southern Cross”.
About A Boy is a little too much of a dirge for that pernicky taste i was referring too earlier.
My Madrigal balances the ledger for me. It’s a slow lament that gently builds, sweet and mournful and moving.
Summer Cannibals is just a great bubbling cauldron of a song. I love the way it gallops along, all ghostly cries in the background and weird buzzy guitar licks plopping in and out of chorus and verse. She wrote it with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of MC5 fame.
Dead To The World is just a little too hokey for me though it works as poetry.
Wing just seems like filler. I feel a bit sacrilegious saying that. This Album was the first Patti Smith release (1996) after her husband passed away from Heart Failure two years prior. So it’s a very personal offering from her perspective. But what can you do. I can only be honest and give you my perspective.
Ravens, I do like. It’s got a blue-grassy feel with mandolins and squeeze boxes but is quite charming. She writes some lovely verses to accompany it too;
“… beneath our feet a feather drifts
beyond us it will fall
cause time will bid and make us rise
make ravens of us all
my love he breathed the air of kings
yet fell beneath his luck
and in his heart a yearning yet
before his time
all the gifts that god gave
and those by fate denied
gone to where all treasures laid
and where the raven flies …”
Robert Zimmerman’s, Wicked Messenger you’d know. She has covered quite a few Bob Dylan songs at various times but she owns this one. The full-time score is Patti Smith: One – Bob Dylan: Nil. The way she spits out “If you cannot bring good news, if you cannot bring good news, if you cannot bring good news than don’t bring any!” is just plain scary.
For my money the ownership changed hands when she released her version.
FireFlies is down right spooky. I’m not sure what I think of it to be honest.
And Farewell Reel closes the Album. It’s not the strongest song but for me it leaves the biggest impact; she wills it to work. It’s probably here that she opens up fully or at least articulates her grief the clearest. Again it’s her saying goodbye. A little plaintive at first, as speaking directly to the listener she dedicates it to Fred then names the songs chords (this I think is a reference to how he was teaching her to play Guitar before he died).
She’s maybe a little scared here, yet strong and clear-headed.
It’s a fitting close.