Patti Smith – Twelve
Columbia Records (4/24/07)
Rock / Punk
Patti Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month; she was a feminist in the late 1970s and “punk rock’s poet laureate,” while influencing rock and roll without being a chart-topper. Her personal life is also very interesting and would make one hell of a movie.
Twelve is Patti Smith’s first album of new studio recordings since Trampin’, her Columbia Records debut, and is her first-ever full-length collection of songs originally written and/or performed by other artists.
Smith has a style that commands attention, typified by mixing spoken-word in her music, which adds an extra stroke to her musical canvas. I’ve already listened to this album several times, and each time I feel rewarded for listening. She can capture emotion and anguish like no one else in punk music can. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” spun me around from the Tears for Fears version of the song, to something that should get current airplay now. “Helpless” was a very poetic Neil Young choice, and Smith can walk one through a music journey to show the strength and vulnerability of every song.
“Gimme Shelter” brought an urgent feeling to the Stones’ classic, and was a perfect choice for the album; however, the version of The Beatles’ “Within You Without You” doesn’t do the original much justice, nor does it follow the ripping and rallying, commanding performance of “Gimme Shelter” very well. For “White Rabbit”, a great spoken-word flavor was added without losing the trippy groove of the song which has an amazing history. And back to “Gimme Shelter” for a quick fun fact: it was one of the first songs to sneak drug references past radio censors.
The acoustic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard”, driven by rich vocals, brought more power to the almost-six-minute song. “Soul Kitchen” was another great choice because of Smith’s ability to know how to emphasize lyrics in the right places: “Well, your fingers weave quick minarets/ Speak in secret alphabets/ I light another cigarette”.
The version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is really quite incredible, and a major artistic highlight because of the punk-bluegrass and spoken-word elements used in the interpretation. Smith brought the anguish of both genres with the spoken-word punch, and anyone else trying to beat that cover is going to be hard-pressed. She does it again when she closes the album on Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”, bringing the sad yet optimistic cry with relevance to now, which all great songs capture.
I feel musically richer to have discovered Twelve; Patti Smith takes twelve classics not her own, not limited to the punk scene, and successfully make them hers (save for that Beatles tune) and still contemporary. She does what artists should always doâ€”connect the listener to the music with them.