Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


"My bowels are empty, excreting your soul"

Class C

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Punk/Grunge, Art Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Patti Smith fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Patti Smith fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Patti Smith is a bluff with an unpredictable result. Her whole image seems to build on controversy - either you are ready to take her as a great Artist or else she probably means zip for you. Truth be told, this is characteristic of a large part of the New York bohemian culture which she belongs to lock, stock, and barrel; but with Patti Smith, there seems to be no backing out whatsoever - you cannot really appeal to her melodies (which she writes only rarely) or her instrumental skills (she doesn't play anything) or even her merciless breaking down of patterns (she was hardly the first person, and not even the first female, to do that). You either have to take her act or leave it.

When she made her first appearance on the CBGB scene, reading her beatnik-influenced poetry to waves of jarring guitar noise courtesy of Lenny Kaye, Fred Smith, Tom Verlaine or whoever was at hand, critics grappled onto her like piranhas. There was a strong, staunchly anti-conservatist female artist preaching the religion of the Velvet Underground, with tons of shocking lyrics to boot, and you know how it goes - lyrics are always easier to analyze than music, independent of whether there is actual music to which they are set or there isn't. A true gift for material-hungry press sharks and pretentious "rock aesthetists" who pretended to hate pretentiousness, yet pretentiously cheered about Patti, one of the most pretentious performers in the business.

When her debut album, Horses, came out, she achieved at least as much respect as a "female Captain Beefheart" could hope for from these guys, and sometimes even more. Eventually she became revered as sort of a godmother of punk - She Who Fucked It All before it became conventional and predictable to fuck it all. And this, in turn, led to the appearance of two schools of thought. One of them, the traditional Rolling-Stone-and-such-based one, still considers Patti Smith to have been a herald of the punk revolution, a cultural figure of enormous, tremendous height, a banner of feminism, and a bastion of emotionality, sincerity, and honesty. The other school treats Patti Smith as a good-for-nothing: a shameless fraud that was picked out from a whole crowd of similar no-goodniks only because she was a woman and sang (or, rather, tried to sing) about tabooed topics, as well as used (or, rather, wasted) the talents of several respectable guitarists (see above).

Both of these points of view are equally valid, depending on where you actually stand. Both of them can also be equally wrong if you're treating them from a sort-of "middle ground" position which I am trying to occupy. In my mind, listening to Patti Smith must begin with a total rejection of stereotypes. If you are expecting her to deliver riff-based hard rock/punk songs with verses and choruses, you will never be able to enjoy something like 'Land' or the first half of 'Radio Ethiopia'. If, on the other hand, you are expecting her to deliver messy, unstructured, spontaneous-sounding rants, you will never be able to savour the classiness of 'Ask The Angels' or 'Dancing Barefoot'. Which is why I have always thought that Horses - the traditional "introduction" to Patti as recommended by almost everybody - is far from the best starting place, because it concentrates too hard on the "non-commercial" aspect of Patti, and the true scope of her talents can be much better appreciated on either of the three succeeding albums.

The essence of Patti Smith is performance. It is an honest performance, and an inspired one - that much I can definitely hear whenever I actually listen to the strain in her voice. It can often be a boring performance, for sure, especially in latter days (her multiple "comeback" albums), because her true strength lies in dynamics, in how she can subtly rev herself up, go from a soft whisper to all-out screaming and then back again and do it several times over a nine-minute tune so you never really feel bored; whenever she starts relying on static, more monotonous, repetitive performances, the thrill seems to be lacking. She's got a good, strong voice, and she actually can sing, despite what everyone and their grandma will try to tell you: even on the most vocally complex numbers, she rarely strains off key. In this she also bears a strong resemblance to Jim Morrison, whose range had its problems but never really lessened the full impact of his powerful vocal cords (hey, I didn't choose that photo at the top of the page for nothin').

What she is actually singing doesn't really matter all that much. At her most "obvious", Patti never had a boatload of original ideas, and at her most "obscure", I don't think even she herself always fully understands what the message is. Suffice it to say a huge majority of her songs deal with things typical for what I call "the American school of mysticism" - dark, depression, death, psychological complexes, sex, loneliness, etc., etc. Generally, she is less understandable than Morrison, but also less cliched, and I don't think I've met the word "lizard" once in her lyrics, although, granted, I never skimmed through all of them. In her latter days, she sort of "mellowed out" and started covering political and social issues in her material, with a radical-liberal tinge of course, but for some reason, her words never really got me interested on a serious level.

That said, aside from the performance angle of the story, there's a lot of good things that can be said about Patti even without cowtowing to the General Critical Opinion. It is a myth that she cannot write a song - 'Ask The Angels', 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger', just about everything on Wave, and even plenty of stuff on her later albums, are as well-written melodically and as catchy as anything. Also, she really had the talent of surrounding herself with first-rate players who knew exactly how to attenuate her act, and even with her Nineties albums, never really succumbed to the extreme perils of overproduction or "MTV-sation" of her act (although the latest offering, Gung Ho, does come perilously close at times). In fact, the only thing that really seriously bugs me about Patti is the extreme seriousness of it all - unlike even the most pompous of prog rockers, for instance, she delivers every single line without even a slightest hint at humour, and I have a natural reservation against those artists whose songs you cannot perform with at least a little bit of smile on your face. (Hey, I can even imagine how to sing 'My Sweet Lord' with a smile on your face, but 'Gloria'? Gimme a break). Still, at least she doesn't succumb to blatant populism, like her contemporary, the equally always-serious Bruce Springsteen - whom she did cover once, though.

Like I already said, don't make the mistake of going into the Patti Smith catalog with the idea of "hey, she's punk, cool!" - she is very much punk in spirit, and her main guitarist was the one who collected the original Nuggets, after all, but this ain't nothing like the Ramones or the Clash. And don't make Horses your first purchase, either, unless your favourite two persons in the world are Leonard Cohen and Allen Ginsberg. Instead, make sure to track down one of her three subsequent albums first (Wave would be the obvious choice for me). Patti's two "comebacks" in the late Eighties and mid-Nineties have met with generally mixed reviews, and my reviews of these records are also generally mixed, so you're on your own with those ones.



Year Of Release: 1975

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Think of it as "punk theater for all those snobby bohemians in Greenwich Village".

Best song: GLORIA

Track listing: 1) Gloria; 2) Redondo Beach; 3) Birdland; 4) Free Money; 5) Kimberly; 6) Break It Up; 7) Land; 8) Elegie.

It is only natural that the critics gushed all over Patti Smith's debut - after all, weren't these the same critics that gushed all over Trout Mask Replica six years before? This is the exact female equivalent, except that the backing band isn't specially trained to do the most unimaginable things possible. Patti does secure the services of a large and eccentric backing band, led by guitarist Lenny Kaye, the same one that's responsible for the world being acquainted with Nuggets, however, these guys are more "normal" musicians, and the 'music' on Horses is somewhat more disciplined and somewhat more accessible than the mind-boggling dissonance of Captain Beefheart's 'masterpiece'. But hey, is the truth really within these details? The essential thing is that Horses stimulates just as much unexplainable adoration AND just as much vicious hatred as Trout Mask Replica, which puts both in the "greatest mystifications in rock" ballpark, I guess.

No, the truth doesn't even lie within our decision to count Horses as 'punk' or 'not punk'. Of course, the album can be considered as 'punk' or 'proto-punk' only if you consider Captain Beefheart 'punk', i.e. if you divide all the music into 'punk' (= radical and defying tradition) and 'anti-punk' (= fake and illusionary, like progressive rock). But too many battles have already been fought over the term; so many, in fact, that it has already lost any possible sense. I'm not really gonna try it here. Yes, Patti Smith did have her beginnings at the CBGB scene, but heck, so did Blondie. Are Blondie punk? Aw fuck it. Leamme alone.

So what do we have here anyway? The truth is as follows. In the metaphorical and figurative sense, Horses have no melodies (like, say, Bruce Springsteen), but they're kinda supposed to have no melodies (quite unlike, say, Bruce Springsteen). The backing band is competent, though, and the few guitar solos that accompany the beats can even be stunning - guitar wiz Tom Verlaine, later of Television fame, actually adds his own talents on one or two tracks, believe it or not. Also, there are some deeply hidden vocal melodies on here, too: it's not true that Patti never sings, or that she always sings offkey. 'Redondo Beach' and the climactic howls of 'Gloria' and 'Land' will prove you wrong, if you dare say that. But still, 'melody' is rather an exception on this album: unlike Dylan, Springsteen, or Leonard Cohen, Patti isn't really pretending to be performing 'music'. Her real idol is Jim Morrison, and not the poppy Jim Morrison of 'People Are Strange' fame, of course, but rather the rambling, prophetical Jim Morrison of 'The End' and 'When The Music's Over'.

Unfortunately, Patti never had even half of Jim's talent, or, if you don't like the word "talent", say "a knack for converting one's pretentious mysticism into accessible form" - and on Horses, it's as evident as can be. First of all, her lyrics simply don't make sense - any sense, that is. The lyrics sure sound dark and occasionally depressing (although I don't really know if they're supposed to be felt that way), but I have not the least idea of what is meant by the lengthy drones 'Birdland' and 'Land', for instance. It sounds as if she's just laying down some dream sequences on paper - dream sequences that have not the least importance to anybody. Second, the lyrics aren't all that interesting in form, either - no clever wordgames, no weird epithets, nothing. And it goes without saying that there's not even a single touch of humour on here. I'm not even going to give any quotes; there are no rational ways in which I could defend the lyrics. It's simply a question of faith: if you want to believe in this stuff, please do so, but me, I'm outta here.

The saving grace, however, is that Patti is a true performer - it's not the lyrics or the voice or the musical backing that matters, it's the way that these lyrics are delivered to us. I mean, Patti could have been singing la-la-las for all I care; the important thing is the 'aggressive crescendos' that characterize most of the long songs on here. Beginning slowly and menacingly (like her take on Van Morrison's 'Gloria'), they gradually pick up steam, with both the band and Patti launching themselves into all-out furious attack, and you can't help but get involved until you're so helpless you find yourself tapping your foot and shouting 'go Johnny go, and do the watusi, and do the watusi!' ('Land'). Again, this is slightly reminiscent of the way Bruce Springsteen sometimes drags you in, but it's even more fiery and even more uncompromised.

And thus, despite the fact that there are about two or three more or less accomplished songs on here ('Redondo Beach' - with unexpected reggae beats; the pretty closing pessimistic ballad 'Elegie'), the rest of the performances go by without you actually noticing the time. That is, if you know what not to expect from this kind of stuff. After a few listens, the buildup on 'Gloria' really started dragging me in, and I don't really give a damn about whether the song is about lesbian attraction or is just a spontaneous improvisation on the 'Jesus died for somebody else's sins but not mine' line or is just a spontaneous improvisation around the Van Morrison chorus; I do give a damn about the fact that Patti turns this into a ferocious psychological (psychiatric?) drama in a way that no woman has ever dared before. I'm also a big sucker for 'Land', and some of the short stuff on here ('Free Money' is a particular kicker, with the 'we'll dream it for free, free money, free money, free money...' "chorus" as one of the bleakest, most desperate, and at the same time sceptically optimistic moments in Patti history); only the slower-moving 'Birdland' sounds like a possibility wasted despite the "guitar thunderstorm" played at the climactic moments against the main piano 'non-riff'.

'Defying dynamic nonsense' - this is how I'd like to characterize the record, with equal emphasis on all the three points. As usual, this is the kind of album you'll either love or hate, and normally I give these records a 'medium' rating. This is the case here. Cut out the hype and the historical importance: this is a great vocal-instrumental performance by an obviously inspired artist, no more and no less.

BUT! By no means follow the general critical advice about making this your first (and only?) Patti Smith purchase. Only a completely snobby, boheme-drenched, pseudo-Artistic with a capital A kind of individual would fall in love (or, rather, pretend to fall in love) with Horses upon first listen without any preliminary preparation. Instead, save this for later - go along with the next three albums, all of which are much more accessible and yet equally true to the Horses spirit, and then come back to this "masterpiece" and tell me what you think.



Year Of Release: 1976

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

This one actually rocks harder, and gives her theatricality even more edge.


Track listing: 1) Ask The Angels; 2) Ain't It Strange; 3) Poppies; 4) Pissing In A River; 5) Pumping (My Heart); 6) Distant Fingers; 7) Radio Ethiopia.

Mmm... perhaps I'm just getting used to Patti Smith, that's why I rate Ethiopia higher than its predecessor? Unlike ninety-nine percent of the critics and fans? (And completely against the modern trend to dump our famous female beatnik poet into the trashbin altogether). Perhaps. If you're a fan, feel free to raise my first rating to an overall twelve as well. But not until I have my say on this, at least.

I actually like Patti's second album more than the first for one simple reason. Increased theatricality. Yes, Radio Ethiopia makes an even better use of Patti's talents as an intriguing performer. That's not the only difference, of course: another crucial change is that some of the songs are slightly more 'accessible' (or 'commercial', if you wish) than before, which led many of the critics to proclaim their disappointment. "We loved our Patti Smith tuneless and unprofessional, and lo! she started writing real songs and having her band play real tight. That's not what we wanted. What's better than taking an album that has no melodies and grinding our customers into treating it as a masterpiece?". Aw, cut the crap. If you really wanted an unprofessional backing band, you should have gone back to the Stooges. Me, I don't really care whether the "Patti Smith Group" plays their instruments fine or not; all I know is that they make an awful lot of noise, but not a lot of awful noise. Lenny Kaye and Ivan Krahl are still drowning out everybody else with their overwhelming trills, gritty distortion and overall guitar-bashing, and that's all right by me, since they do it in an atmospheric way and the sonic aspects fully match Patti's "singing" aspects. After all, isn't 'professionalism' a rather relative notion? Eh?

Likewise, I'm not at all worried about Patti going 'commercial'. On the contrary, this results in at least one minor proto-punk masterpiece: 'Ask The Angels' is as brilliant an introduction to a gritty 'proto-punk' album as there could be. It holds the key to the entire record, in fact: Patti's wild scream of 'MOOOOOOOVE!' that opens the song certainly symbolizes the dynamic nature of the album. It's the exact opposite of Brian Eno's static musical philosophy, if you wish - unmatched dynamics, forty minutes of prime paranoid tension, spookiness, movement, panic and hysterics. That said, 'Ask The Angels' is pretty tame, controlled, and yet catchy and featuring a stupid, but distinguishable chorus. Yeah, I do mean that 'wild wild wild wild wild' chant, although, to be frank, it's more like 'wa-yeeld wa-yeeld wa-yeeld wa-yeeld'... 'Pumping (My Heart)' is just as good and even wilder - say, you have no idea why they call Patti Smith "punk rock"? If 'Pumping' ain't punk rock, then 'Call Of Ktulu' ain't metal. It's meaner and leaner than every single punk song put out by the Clash and the Jam and the Sex Pistols put together, even if lyrically it sports the same message as Madonna's 'Burning Up'. Turns out you can say the same thing in several different ways, to put it, er, mildly. Finally, the third "accessible" song on here is the odd calypso-styled 'Distant Fingers', sporting the same function as 'Redondo Beach' on the debut, I guess - to give you Patti Smith as a gentle sensitive subtle add your favourite non-aggressive epithet here kind of person.

That said, these three short songs are not really indicative of the "meat" of the album. That woulda been the other glorious trio - the one of 'Ain't It Strange', 'Poppies' and 'Pissing In A River'. Again, Patti invokes the spirit of Jim Morrison, but dresses it up in her own clothes and comes up with something idiosyncratic. Her lyrics are becoming even more convoluted that before, but it doesn't already matter much: she mumbles and splutters so fervently that it's hardly possible to make head or tails of the lyrics without the actual lyrics sheet. So my advice is - just concentrate on the singing (screaming? mumbling? raving?) instead. If the schizophrenic, bloody weirdness of 'Ain't It Strange' doesn't do you in, then 'Poppies' certainly will. I mean, heck, 'Poppies' should definitely be the scariest thing to ever come out from the entire American music scene since Jim the Morrison passed away. It does have certain gloomy drug references (aren't poppies supposed to symbolize opium? I'm at a loss), but it's just the general environment that tugs me in. Ethereal guitars, sharp outbursts of noise, numerous Patti overdubs, it's just a dreadful apocalyptic symphony that only gains from the little bit of quasi-necrophilian poetry reading in the middle. Ugh. Creepy. As for 'Pissing In A River', that one's gotta be admired just for sporting such a defying title. And for its cool, trademark Patti Smith crescendo.

I'm still torn about the mastodontic noisejam of the title track that closes the album, though. It does have its moments, of course, but essentially it's just noise. If you like 'L.A. Blues' by the Stooges, or you're a big fan of the Airplane's acid cacophony... welcome. Twelve minutes is a bit too much for me. Well, over time you'll probably learn to appreciate the song's leaden, molten-cruel metallic beginnings, with Lenny and co. riffing in all directions and several Patti Smiths spitting out bits of broken beatnic blabbering in all directions, but once the metallic riffage dies down and the track slumps into a more lethargic direction (approximately half of it), this is where boredom truly sets in, the same kind of boredom that can haunt you over the least interesting moments of Morrison's 'The End'.

Still, let me just reiterate that the main attraction of the album is Patti's theatricality and brilliant impersonation of Madness. In a certain way, she actually is more realistic than Jim Morrison, whose love for grandiose posing often derailed him from the "essence". Patti is less willing to go for grand intonations and poetic cliches. On some level, I suppose, she is still more phoney than Morrison (who actually lived through all of his nightmares), but you couldn't tell that from listening to Radio Ethiopia.



Year Of Release: 1978

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The more she gets "accessible", the more she starts looking like Morrison's bastard daughter.


Track listing: 1) Till Victory; 2) Space Monkey; 3) Because The Night; 4) Ghost Dance; 5) Babelogue/Rock'n'Roll Nigger; 6) Privilege (Set Me Free); 7) We Three; 8) 25th Floor/High On Rebellion; 9) Easter.

Branded by some as a "sellout", but don't make me laugh. If the slogan 'more music, less noise' equals 'sellout' to you, you're really hopeless and that's that. True, Easter finds Patti picking up a bit more sophisticated and "normal-sounding" musical background, but that doesn't necessarily make the entire listening experience of a more accessible nature. In some respects, it's the contrary: lyrically, for instance, Easter is Patti's most vicious stab so far, and songs like 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger' defy all kinds of PC like nothing can. Well - that's liberalism for you. Or, wait, maybe not, since PC is essentially a liberal invention itself. Ah well. You just don't know who to trust in the modern world.

The record had been a long time in the making, due to Patti's near-fatal stage accident in 1977, after which there ensued a long break in touring - and supposedly, Patti just "calmed down" a little bit in the process of convalescing. To make matters even more 'mainstream', Springsteen's producer, Jimmy Iovine, comes around to insert a touch of smoothness into Patti's next album, but that doesn't worry me much - the arrangements do become a little more lifeless than before, but Patti's voice and, ahem, "performativity" are just as strong as before, and what was wrong for Springsteen works all right for Patti. 'Because The Night', penned by Bruce originally, but with new lyrics from Patti (just like Van Morrison's 'Gloria' before), was the closest she ever got to having a commercial hit single, but it's far from the best song on the album - a bombastic arena rocker with huge drums and glorious pianos, well, kinda like the E Street Band with even glossier production. Still, it's hardly bad, and I'd take Patti's vocals over the Boss any time o' day, hey, in fact, I'd take anybody's vocals (and everything else) over the Boss' vocals (and everything else) any time of day. I've yet to hear a Boss cover that's worse than the original, heh heh. And that includes Manfred Mann's 'Blinded By The Light', too. Now before you get all riled up and start making up a huge flame about the level of my kindergarten, let's move on.

In any case, I still prefer the more 'personal' rockers on here, like the album opener, 'Till Victory', with its constant mood shifts and driving vocals. Or the mocking organ of 'Space Monkey'. Is it possible to condemn Patti after hearing the powerful introduction to the song and then hear her go 'Blood on the TV, ten o'clock news, souls are invaded, heart in a groove'? And do it with such conviction and dedication that the song can be appreciated on the strength of this massive vocal delivery alone? I could have easily done without the "mystical poetry" excerpt in the middle, but, well, isn't that the point?

Speaking of mystical poetry, a similar bit of mystical - and shocking - poetry ('Babelogue') preludes 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger', easily the album's centerpiece and its most thrilling piece. Patti's voice almost rises to an ecstatic Jaggerish growl on here, but it's the entire combination of the fast pace, crunchy guitar riffs, vocals, provocative lyrics ('outside the society, that's where I want to be'), and prayer-form mid-section that makes it all so compelling. The more aggressive Patti gets, the better it is, because her aggressiveness never seems contrived or fake, even if you can't understand what the hell IS she about. As for the "n***** word', well, she did get a lot of flack for it - including a retort from none other than the illustrious Dave Marsh himself, who had the nerve to state that Patti doesn't truly understand the word's connotations. What a sad world we're living in, ladies and gentlemen. Isn't it funny that today, it takes Marilyn Manson of all people to record a cover of that song? So that when people look at it, they say "oh, it's just that insubstantial goofy freak doing it, he's a money-grubbin' shock performer and that's that". Let a serious artist, with a high critical reputation, record a provocative anti-PC rant, though, and he's doomed. Fuck it. Instead of wasting energy on the dumbest superficial interpretations, why don't people bother to actually think over the actual lyrics, for once?

Elsewhere, Patti is getting a bit religious, like on 'Privilege (Set Me Free)', which incorporates some distinct prayer elements and is even upheld by gospelish organ. Not that the actual message is clear - with Patti screaming 'I'm so young, I'm so goddamn young, set me free', you could think that she's actually protesting against her current life, that she wants to get old, you know, like old contented people. Or maybe it's just a deathwish? Interpretations may differ, but the song is powerful enough to be appreciated even without any distinct interpretation. Likewise, it's hard to get the message of the title track, but it certainly is interesting to take a general listen to it - it's wonderfully atmospheric, with church bells adding an air of solemnity and majesty (you could say church bells add that to anything, but what about 'Hell's Bells', then?), and a moody, well-constructed guitar solo in the best traditions of Neil Young-inspired minimalism accompanying the song throughout.

The only real misfire, I think, is 'Ghost Dance' - maybe it's a coincidence that the very same year the remainder of the Doors released 'Ghost Song' on An American Prayer, but if it is, it's a creepy and bizarre one, because 'Ghost Dance' is essentially a shamanistic tribal dance, very much in the Morrison vein, in fact, so much that it sounds like a flabbergastingly weak imitation of stuff like 'My Wild Love', and is almost parodic for Patti. She gives a wobblingly authentic interpretation of the pagan religious song ('we shall live again, shake out the ghost song...'), for some reason inserting Biblical image ('mannah from Heaven from the most high...'), but still, this is too much of a "tribute" to help her own identity.

All in all, I'm a bit unsure if the album really is as good as Radio Ethiopia, but it's hard to make yourself any kind of rational criteria when you're dealing with Patti Smith, you know. Like I said, it might seem that Easter is more commercial, but it's a fake impression - I can't imagine Patti actually gaining fans with this release, or just anybody who'll say 'Gee, I like Easter, but Radio Ethiopia and Horses are fuckin' shitpiles!'. Essentially, it's still the same old story: those who appreciate Patti as an exciting, 'dangerous' performer will love the experience, those who think of Patti as a critics' plot to destroy public taste will loathe it. I, for one, happen to think that the rockin' energy of these albums buries Springsteen deep in the dust, but that's just me. Now go use your OWN brains! Patti Smith is more of an acquired taste than anything else on this site. Off wid' ye now!



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Bless you, Mr Rundgren, by squeezing out an album from Patti I'd always thought she was capable of.


Track listing: 1) Frederick; 2) Dancing Barefoot; 3) So You Want To Be (A Rock'n'Roll Star); 4) Hymn; 5) Revenge; 6) Citizen Ship; 7) Seven Ways Of Going; 8) Broken Flag; 9) Wave.

The last of Patti's "original quadrilogy" of albums, before she got finally married to Fred Smith and left the music business for a good decade and a half to devote more time to family and the simple pleasures of life. Upon its release, it was treated by the critics as somewhat of a disappointment, but in reality, it is simply somewhat more accessible - in fact, one could easily trace Patti's route from Horses to Wave as gradually 'commercializing' her music. Apart from the title track, which concludes the album, just about everything else on here has a pretty reasonable running time, a discernible melody and, usually, a standard verse-chorus structure, as well as glossier, smoother production courtesy of one Todd Rundgren, which, I guess, will hardly come as a surprise for those familiar with at least one or two other albums that Todd has laid his signature upon. Naturally, this was deemed as yet more evidence of Patti's sellout nature. Blind! Blind people! Is effective self-expression impossible without traditional structures? What a bunch of rubbish.

Wave is just as good as everything Patti ever did, in fact, it's consistent to the point of GODDAMN - there are definite "highlights" that stand above everything else, but not a single song on here is boring, offensive, or pointless. It doesn't rock out too well, though, nothing as fast and frantic as 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger' around to boil up your blood. It sounds pretty poppy and even soft-rockish in some places, too. But as long as it's not a crime by default in your eyes, I don't see what's wrong with mellowing out a bit, if you can compensate for it with other strong sides, such as melody, mood, intriguing lyrics, and the ability to express rebellion and protest not necessarily through speed and yelling.

And whatever the case, it does contain what might be the greatest Patti Smith song ever - the mystical, haunting 'Dancing Barefoot', a song that Stevie Nicks would probably give all of her blonde wavy hair to gain possession of. Granted, the lyrics are the usual Patti Smith lyrics, which means starry-eyed, slightly naive mystics, this time apparently dealing with the nature of Man and Woman and their life-and-death interrelation. But the performance she gives out is beyond perfection - a perfect musical background, with restrained acoustic guitars, a steady unnerving beat, ethereal solos, and above all, the utterly gorgeous verses, mid-sections, and chorus; when she gets to the '...some strange music draws me in, makes me come on like some heroine (heroin?)', it's not only a brilliant, untrivial musical resolution of the vocal melody, it's also a perfect thrilling question mark to be set in your head. I may be wrong, but I can feel the influence of this song - and the likes of it - on just about any modern female performer with serious artistic ambitions. From Sinead O'Connor to Portishead, they all did this, and nobody did this better. You can just take my word for it.

Maybe the rest of the album doesn't exactly live up to the glory of the song, but few things could. The cover of 'So You Wanna Be A Rock'n'Roll Star' is rather pointless if you look at it from a formal point of view (Patti Smith covering the Byrds? What next, Sonic Youth covering Buffalo Springfield?), but when you do listen to it, you'll find out it's performed decently, rocks heavier than most other tracks, with an ass-kickin' metallic background from Patti's guitarist crew; plus, some folks took it to be some kind of "musical testament" from the going-out Patti, so it has its use, I guess. 'Frederick', the pop-rock tribute to Patti's soon-to-be-husband, has a nice steady tempo and a nice, moving melody that I personally favour (although, to be fair, I can understand the critics if they mostly wrote their negative reviews based on listening to that first song - on first listen, it really gives the impression of Patti losing all here venomous teeth! 'Tis no 'Gloria', I tell you).

'Revenge' borrows the Beatles' 'I Want You' riff to good effect, even if the song is a bit too plodding to hold you in a tight grip all the time (most of the time it does, though), but it does give Ms Smith yet another serious chance at offering a performance of a lifetime, going from quiet threatening singing in the verses to unbridled fury in the chorus, and is that Mr "Sonic" himself lashing out these insane chords in the solo? Good work, then. Again, it's like the classic Patti Smith is "watering down" her mystique a little, singing a rather 'conventional' Goth soul epic and all, but 'conventional' is a relative notion in the first place: many a listener will be beaten right into the ground upon hearing this thing for the first time, without being pushed away from it as he could be while listening to similar, yet far less structured, rants on Horses.

Also, both 'Citizen Ship' (sic) and 'Broken Flag' are solid political declarations, the first one dealing with, well, human rights, I guess, and the second with... um... colonization? 'Marching for Algiers'? Whatever. They both make a point. You won't remember them as well as you'll remember 'Dancing Barefoot', 'Frederick', and 'Revenge', but they both make a point, and make it adequately.

Finally, Patti's "experimental" edge is pushed only to the last number, which is just Patti reciting a little monolog over a background of classical piano and - of course - waves beating on the shore. The monolog is initially supposed to be addressed to the late Pope John Paul I ('I saw you from the balcony window and you were standing there waving at everybody'), and then drifts off to celebrating the 'wave' as such. Well... it doesn't seem to make much sense, apart from demonstrating a strangely nice attitude towards the Catholic church - Patti has admitted many times that John Paul I was her favourite pope - but the performance is pretty haunting again. You just gotta hear that voice, initially so strong and masculine, transform into something so naive, innocent and childish to believe it, like an excited rock'n'roll fan catching his idol on the street and not really knowing what to say. I was sure taken by it. And, of course, it's a great way to go out - a beautiful and atmospheric goodbye to the art of music in general.

In short, I take Wave to be a conscious shift of musical direction, nowhere near a 'sellout' or a 'blanding out', and find the musical material on it to be of top quality, generally. Mayhaps some people wanted Ms Smith to go on and be 'shocking' and 'defiant' as she was before, but that's their problem. In a certain sense, Wave is just as defiant as Horses, actually, only there are more ways to be defiant then get everything at top volume and shout out 'Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine', you know? This is the best Patti Smith album ever, and if I have to thank the gruesomely overrated Todd Rundgren for it, I'll do it without blinking an eye.



Year Of Release: 1988

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

I guess this is what they call "alternative adult contemporary" when they give it any name at all. But really, I don't mind all that much.


Track listing: 1) People Have The Power; 2) Up There Down There; 3) Paths That Cross; 4) Dream Of Life; 5) Where Duty Calls; 6) Going Under; 7) Looking For You (I Was); 8) The Jackson Song; 9) As The Night Goes By; 10) Wild Leaves.

A ten-year period of isolation sure smoothes your teeth out - just look what a mere four years did to John Lennon. But, after all, you don't make music with your teeth, and once you come to terms with the fact that Patti Smith is no longer pissing in rivers and wanting to take revenge on everybody in sight, Dream Of Life is nowhere near as bad as it was when you did not yet come to terms with that fact. It's pretty boring, yes, and monotonous, sure, and uninventive, guess who's arguing with that one, but all the same, it still has something to offer for every Patti fan - for one thing, she, way before it became common among the rockers of her generation, accepts her age, and makes an album that's wholly adequate and, apart from an occasional lyrical slip ('up there there's a ball of fire... its energies are not for hire!' - sic!), totally non-ridiculous.

She worked on this with Fred Smith, the last collaborative project of theirs before his death from cancer in the early Nineties, and this is both a blessing and a disappointment: blessing, because Fred steers clear of modern production - synthesizers are used sparingly and only where necessary, and most of the experience is strictly guitar-driven. And disappointment, because surely I expected at least some songs to kick more ass. For all of his excellent guitarwork with the MC5 and on Patti's earlier records, this is a strangely restrained performance he gives here, with flaccid, almost minimalistic solos, and, in fact, mostly sticking to rhythm. Then again, perhaps this is also related to the "adequacy" of the album: the atmosphere is calm and collected, even and predictable, as if a 1988-era Patti Smith had to be more influenced by Zen meditation than garage rock.

Basically, what you have here musically is a great match for the grey somber album sleeve. The music is equally grey and somber, with the same pessimistic mood throughout, carried over from Wave but with less power and fewer interesting ideas to ever be able to approach the heights of the 1979 record. You like pianos? Vocal modulation going over several octaves? Unexpected tempo changes? A country instrumental midway through? A crushing heavy metal riff, perhaps? Or a grandiose Brian Wilson-like orchestrated ballad whose pomposity and mangnificence overrides its corny sentimentality? Forget about all these. This is all midtempo rock, sometimes harder, sometimes softer, and once a song starts, you get to learn everything about it in the first thirty seconds and then have to endure four to six more minutes of it.

On the other hands, it IS midtempo rock, actually, midtempo rock songs, and each and every one of these has a melody and - gasp! - most of the time, even a chorus, and even a hummable one at times. All the attempts at pushing the boundaries of art with melodyless declamations and declarations and 'hi, hi, I saw you walking on the beach' stuff are gone without a trace, and lo and behold, what we have here is a spiritual predecessor of Jagged Little Pill, except that unlike Alanis, Mrs Smith doesn't exactly shove her "I suffer" propaganda right in our faces. Actually, she doesn't even suffer. She ruminates. And meditates. And offers God-sized opinions on everything including Islam terrorism.

Now truly and verily, there's still energy and conviction a-plenty left here, and melodic skill one should not overlook. Even the bleeding seven-minute monster 'Where Duty Calls', with its pictures of terror acts and subtly felt influences of Near Eastern music in the melody and its climactic chorus, really only has its insufferable length going against it - I mean, okay, yeah, enough already, in 1988 I'll think twice before taking a seven-minute long song from Dylan even, let alone Patti Smith. But when she's short and up to the point, as in 'Looking For You (I Was)', the results are pretty dang good. I like Fred's guitar technique on that one as he adds interesting twists to the most basic of rock riffs, and I like the resolution of the vocal melody, and I like the (relatively) uncliched lyrics and all the Shakespeare's child references.

But even more I would recommend the opening track, which is hardly surpassed by anything on here. The Utopian message of 'People Have The Power' certainly adds a grain of corn to the final result, but hey, if it's possible for people like Curtis Mayfield to get a little Messiahnistic from time to time, why can't it be possible for people like Patti Smith, the depth of the caring artistic heart of which hasn't really been measured by any objective standard? At least it wasn't written in response to 9/11. And you gotta dig that uprising chorus, even if it consists of nothing but the title of the track. Besides, it's the most upbeat and the most "grandiose" statement on the album, and Patti's inspired vocal delivery renders the message completely adeuqate. After all, it's just a vision, and who can argue with the fact that "the people rule"? People rule, that's for certain. Except for those people that are assholes. Which leads us to the next prize question - how do you tell a person from an asshole? If you have an answer, mail it to me right here, on the spot, and perhaps together we can carry out the message of 'People Have The Power'.

In terms of individual tracks, I could also single out 'Up There Down There' (nice hard-rockin' drive, reminding me of Genesis 'In The Beginning' for some reason); the minimalistic, yet pretty lullaby ('The Jackson Song', also overlong by a couple minutes for such a simple and sweet idea); and the closing autumnal anthem 'Wild Leaves' - I swear to God the beginning of the song is a direct allusion to "California Dreamin'", but not more than an allusion, and then there's just a touching autumnal lament with a sparse synth-and-percussion backup, sort of a requiem-to-I-don't-know-what.

Really, though, Dream Of Life is fairly consistent, although no song ever goes beyond "good". Lyrically, it ventures in between messiahnism ('People...', 'Going Under'), pessimism, and romanticism, and - oh cripes! - most of the time, you can actually understand what she's singing about. Melodies? Understandable lyrics? Fuck this sellout. Yet I still give this album an overall 10 and declare it a nice and occasionally touching artistic statement. Plus, I can't resist that WISENED look on the front cover.



Year Of Release: 1996

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

This is where I pass out. This is what I call "bland morbidity".


Track listing: 1) Gone Again; 2) Beneath The Southern Cross; 3) About A Boy; 4) My Madrigal; 5) Summer Cannibals; 6) Dead To The World; 7) Wing; 8) Ravens; 9) Wicked Messenger; 10) Fireflies; 11) Farewell Reel.

I've heard many a heated diatribe against Patti Smith, and sometimes it struck me that these diatribes were essentially doing to Patti what she was doing to mainstream culture - daring to say "fuck you, who needs you" even under the threat of being crucified. In other words, it's fun and audacious to say "Patti Smith sucks" in the same way as it's fun and audacious for Patti to sing about rock'n'roll niggers. Me, I've resisted doing that for the five albums reviewed above, and turns out I've been saving that statement for the most "audacious" moment; now, with Gone Again, I can truly say that 1996-style Patti Smith sucks.

"Most audacious", because Gone Again is an album that's been safe-guarded against critique by the unwritten ethical laws. It is a record about death and loss, grown out of personal experience - primarily, the passing of Patti's husband, Fred Smith, and her brother. In other words, it's an album belonging in the same bag with Neil Young's Tonight The Night and, as far as more recent music is concerned, Lou Reed's Magic And Loss (both of them also triggered by recent deaths of close friends), and it's an album that you don't criticize just as you don't criticize the dead themselves. Obviously, Patti is hurt, and obviously, she is expressing her true feelings here, as best as she can. And I'm really sorry about that and all. Losing your husband/wife is the worst tragedy you can experience, possibly only surpassed by the loss of your child. And yet, this does not by any means warrant the necessity of putting out a bad album to account for it.

Where do I begin? Okay, let's start by describing this thing as minimalist. And I mean minimalist even for Patti's own standards. 'Beneath The Southern Cross' takes the basic two-chord acoustic strum and carries it on for four and a half minutes. 'Dead To The World' rolls along like an endless sea shanty with not one second slightly distinguished from the other. And above all reigns supreme 'About The Boy', an eight-minute nightmare of distorted feedback way way beyond, in the background, and a simple ultra-slow drumbeat in the foreground. Which means that the "poppier" side of Dream Of Life is gone for shit - Patti is back to reciting her poems to rudimentary music. Only this time the guys who accompany her, and both Tom Verlaine and Lenny Kaye are guesting on the album, don't find a single interesting riff to set her poems to, nor do they even remotely try to recreate the fury of old.

Granted, once again this is not required. After all, the record is a requiem of sorts, you don't need to boogie to it. But here comes the catch - for a year like 1996, the approach of Gone Again is hopelessly dated. I have heard SO many gloomy doomy death-related records from both male and female artists now, that this statement from Patti, no matter how much it matters for herself, simply gets lost among the crowd. I dunno, go listen to Portishead's Dummy if you want to hear pain and suffering expressed in a really unique and innovative way; that album gives you all of Gone Again but under a new, much fresher light. Which means that if you're a hardcore Patti fan, ignorant of everything else that happens in the musical world, you can rate this three or four points higher than I do, but I'll pass.

The two "upbeat" songs on the album do rule, I'll give you that - showing that Patti can still rock and come up with a vocal melody as goofy and memorable as that of 'Summer Cannibals', not to mention the song's gory lyrical matter, with its metaphoric images of flesh-devouring monsters in the quiet streets of Georgia. The title track takes its hook from some old Anglo-Saxon folk song and "grungifies" it so she can duet on it with Neil Young (no, she doesn't), although not much more can be said about it. There's also Patti's unexpected cover of Dylan's 'Wicked Messenger', which is odd, because I've already started thinking of comparisons with some of Dylan's Time Out Of Mind-era material way before that song came along, confirming the correctness of the direction of my thoughts. It is about a trillion times slower than the original and actually, when you give it a listen, shows some great guitarwork in the short instrumental sections (Verlaine?), but the sound is so muddy and compressed it hardly matters much.

What grieves me most of all is the lack of strength. In the early period, I had no problem with sitting through a nine-minute epic of Patti's, because her unusual vocal modulation, all the little unexpected twists and turns and invitations to do the watusi and stuff kept me glued to my seat. But with epics like 'About The Boy' and 'Fireflies', it's a whole different thing. There's nothing unexpected here; you've heard one minute of these songs, you've heard them all, and you're expected to fall into a trance and sympathize as she goes from one - no doubt poetically valid - image to another. 'Fireflies' is, like, the epitome of lethargy in music, sounding like Patti is singing while under the influence of a whole bunch of different tranquilizers. I agree, maybe it makes more sense to review and rate the album when you've lost a loved one yourself, but in that case the album should come along with a sticker saying something like "Dedicated To All The Bereft In The World". If you are not bereft, most chances are you'll think this sucks.



Year Of Release: 1997

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

The real comeback, with a thoroughly adequate title - this IS peace and noise. Maybe peace through noise?


Track listing: 1) Waiting Underground; 2) Whirl Away; 3) 1959; 4) Spell; 5) Don't Say Nothing; 6) Dead City; 7) Blue Poles; 8) Death Singing; 9) Memento Mori; 10) Last Call.

Another year, another grey, depressing album cover. Say, have you noticed by any chance that all of Patti's album covers, except for the one where she's flashing her armpit hair growth, are black and white? (Well, I guess Wave sorta has a tinge of blueish, but if you have minor eyesight problems, you might not even notice). The sign of a true elite artist, it is, like all those professional photographers who sneer at anybody trying to shoot anything in colour and still cherish their trusty 50-year old cameras. Heh heh. But on the other hand, in Patti's case this colouring simply matches the music, which is just as grey, unsettling, and depressing as the packaging. On Peace And Noise, though, I'd say she went a little overboard with the thing - what's that, a ruined church interior? Aw come on, it's not as harsh as that! We're not talking Joy Division here!

Or maybe we are. Anyway, Peace And Noise is the real comeback for Patti if there ever was one. Just don't forget to, you know, actually listen to it before pronouncing judgement - the All-Music Guide, for instance, pans it for not featuring as much "anthemic rocking" as Gone Again, but guess what? The only song that even vaguely reminds one of "anthemic rocking" on Gone Again is the title track, while on this album there is, indeed, a whole bunch of solid anthemic rockers, although I'd call them "folk-rockers" personally. So I'm just gonna assume that Stephen Thomas Erlewine or whoever was spilling the beans on these two albums just had them confused with each other, which is, after all, not very surprising because one of them doesn't even have the name printed on the front cover, and the other one has it in very small letters - you can't expect AMG reviewers to have good eyesight now, can you? They didn't even see the microscopic "This Album Is A Complete Joke And Whoever Thinks Otherwise Is A Self-Deceiving Moron Mistaking A Stupid Plot Of Corporate Industry For True Artistic Statements" disclaimer on the front sleeve of Vanessa Carlton's debut, so whaddaya know.

So, back to our warhorses, Peace And Noise actually consists to a large extent of material that Patti had been working on with Fred Smith before his death, but death is still the album's most pressing subject. Just look at the titles: 'Death Singing', 'Dead City', 'Memento Mori', whatever. However, this time it is songs again, not rambling poems set to one chord for ten minutes, and there is clearly much more emphasis on the musical background than before. And when Patti gives the reins to Lenny Kaye and that other guitarist, I think Oliver Ray is his name or something, they revel in this newly found freedom so much that even when there's no real memorable melody, there's at least some exquisite guitarwork around. Like on 'Don't Say Nothing', with its trip-hop beat and subtle funky guitar lines that really get your feet a-tappin' as your brain is trying to adjust to the unsettling sound of Patti's voice and catch snippets of lyrics involving being isolated in the crowd, skinning old cats, and spreading out wings and flying away.

The best song this time around is undoubtedly 'Waiting Underground', a true anthem in the direct sense of the word, a mighty powerful song that seems to be about waiting for the apocalypse, although the word "underground", for me at least, definitely associates with the cultural underground - in which Patti Smith had always been, even despite all the rock criticism appraisal. 'If you believe all your hope is gone/Down the drain of your humankind/The time has arrived/You'll be waiting here as I was/In a snow-white shroud/Waiting underground' - hey, that's about us good music lovers. Well, not really, but it's a possible interpretation all the same.

It's just so much better when Patti gets to deliver her message to a solid musical background. Oh, let it be repetitive for all I care, the important thing is that the basic idea be good. 'Blue Poles' is not very memorable and not very inventive, just a basic folk-rock structure with acoustic guitars, a lazy drumbeat and occasional harmonicas blending in, but they get a nice sound going all the same, a touching and in places even tear-jerking lament about... death (what else?). 'Death Singing' sounds like a good late-period Dylan song (no, that's not an oxymoron), only with extra distortion, and the quasi-martial chorus ('Have you seen death singing in the straw-colored light?') is at once powerful and terrifying once you actually get to ponder the message behind it.

There's even some genre differentiating here - for instance, 'Whirl Away' is clearly ska-influenced, and a nice change of pace after the opening "grunge blues" patterns of 'Waiting Underground'. The obligatory ten-minute rant, 'Memento Mori', as usual, claims to suck, but is at least more energetic than the two rants on Gone Again, and features the guitarists making all kinds of feedback and phasing noise in the background as the foreground is dedicated to a weird twist on a Bo Diddley rhythm - obviously a slight nod in the direction of all those pseudo-cacophonous sonic journeys on Horses, and reaching even further, to the depths of Patti's adoration of the Velvet Underground. The only total misfire, I'd say, is 'Spell', a (fortunately) short and stupid acoustic interlude with Patti reciting a particularly bad Allen Ginsberg "poem" - I don't want to go into details about the ups and downs of beatnik poetry in general or Ginsberg in particular, but there's nothing easier in the world than writing 'poetry' according to the "list method", this time with everything wrapped up around the word 'holy'. Heck, a computer can write that stuff.

But in the end, it probably is the best late-period Patti Smith money can buy. Not an ounce of Dream Of Life's overproduction and general blandness, very little of Gone Again's overcooked lethargy and lyrics-over-music approach, and a good proof that Kaye is still a good rock guitarist, too.



Year Of Release: 2000

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Looks like the older the beatnik gets, the less beatniky he/she becomes. I can TELL what she's pissed off about on here.


Track listing: 1) One Voice; 2) Lo And Beholden; 3) Boy Cried Wolf; 4) Persuasion; 5) Gone Pie; 6) China Bird; 7) Glitter In Their Eyes; 8) Strange Messengers; 9) Grateful; 10) Upright Come; 11) New Party; 12) Libbie's Song; 13) Gung Ho.

Uh-huh. Err-hhrrm. Well, this is the year 2000 and the new millennium is about to begin and we have a new record from Patti Smith. Can I go back to my bowling now?

Seriously, folks, I feel pretty spent here. This record is neither real good nor real bad. It just sounds... sorta all right, if you know what I mean. Got dead bored with it on first listen, wanted to condemn it and say something grand and fiery like "she's finally sold her soul to the generic cliches of 'mainstream alternative' and no anti-commercialist lyrics can save this record from its wretched sound'. Then, on second listen, some melodies showed through the muck and then I suddenly thought, 'hey, Lenny Kaye is too good to really fall prey to complete genericness, maybe I should keep on listening'. Then it got better, but it didn't get much better. And I hoped it would! Gung Ho is just like that, a record that grows faintly, faintly better with every new listen but never really opens your eyes on anything.

And why? Because it fuckin' sucks. No, wait, that belongs to some other page. Maybe a futuristic preview of my Dream Theater page. Gung Ho is very long - more than an hour, in fact, which is more than an eternity when applied to an artist like Patti Smith. It features zip new ideas and a very limited amount of moods and guitar tones. It has a slightly more colourful album cover than the ones before it, but the music is just as grey and depressed as ever; after all, you wouldn't expect a Year 2000 model of Patti Smith to produce a record full of boy band music or techno raves. It shows she can still write a good lyric and belt it out with power and emotionality. It is almost completely song-based, but only as long as you are still willing to tolerate the two obligatory melodyless rants ('Strange Messengers' and the title track). And it also has a weird - for Patti - lyrical directness, with explicit pissed-off messages from condemning commercialism ('Glitter In Their Eyes') to condemning imperialism (title track).

Speaking of 'Glitter In Their Eyes', now THAT's a great song! Not just the best song on the record - one of the best rockers in Mrs Smith's entire career. Don't even mind the punkish riff that opens the song, because you've heard riffs like these many times before, as good as they are. The best thing comes in the chorus, when Patti's already overdriven delivery of the verses suddenly transforms into that ethereal echoey 'oh can't you see.. the glitter... in their eyes?' line repeated twice. She can no longer scream and bellow like she did years ago, but this echoey effect on her voice is so downright scary and portentous I can't call it anything but a perfect replacement of the former raw power. Too bad there are no more songs like this one in her latter day catalog, but then again, maybe it'd be better not to overdo it.

There is a bunch of pretty fast flowing rockers on here besides 'Glitter', but only 'Persuasion' comes close in quality, with a complex New Wavish, almost King Crimson-ian, guitar riff driving it, and a wild high-mixed guitar solo that's unusually clean and "heavenly" for a Patti Smith record. On the other hand, the vocal melody is more powerful than memorable, and without a lot of convincing-yourself, you probably won't be able to tell the song from a million similar ones. The funny thing is I always keep hearing these last lines as 'you can't prepare for the Hutts' invasion' and can't stop my subconscience from thinking about what the Hutts have to do with Patti Smith. (No, she doesn't look like one).

Of the ballads, perhaps the most eyebrow-raising one is 'Libbie's Song', a banjo-and-fiddle folksy ditty, apparently sung from the point of view of General Custer's widow standing upon his grave. Well, surely there is an analogy with Patti's widowhood and all, but isn't a lament for General Custer sort of a controversial thing in the first place? Oh, that's right, I forgot who we're dealing with here. This is hardly any more controversial than 'Rock'n'Roll Nigger'.

Other than that, it's just song after song, some slower, some faster, some worse, some better, not one really standing out. And by the time 'Gung Ho' comes along, I'm already so much spent I couldn't bring myself to appreciate this lengthy anti-imperialist rant even if there was something to appreciate about it. Well, now that I think of it, there are a couple of things - the breathy mystical delivery against the chuggin' unnervin' riff, the robotic "breathing out" of the Marine Corps call, the prophetic accappella "one more revolution, one more turn of the wheel" ending... but it's too late baby now, it's too late, though we really did try to make it.

So it's basically just Peace And Noise Vol. 2, smoother and less scary than the predecessor. Perhaps it's just that the pain and sorrow caused by two horrible deaths have somehow washed away, and now Patti just has nothing more to sharpen her teeth upon - I mean, yeah, commercialism and imperialism suck, but they're sort of far away from you, if you know what I mean. Then again, Wave was easily her least "sharp" album of the Seventies, and it still got the 10, so there's also something to be said for other factors - like the lack of a good producer, the lack of creative songwriting ideas, and the boringness of the arrangements. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we're going to expect anything better than this in the unlikely case of Patti wanting to make a record again.


Return to the main index page