Review Summary: Patti Smith mellows out in her now sixty years and takes a stab at the past on Twelve. Not what you might think, this is straight from the heart of all things Patti and company once rallied against. And its not half bad.
Cover albums by their very nature are often times dismal, sorted affairs at worst and novel points of interest at most, often best left to hardcore fans of those doing the covering are non fans looking for something new from an artist in the past not much cared for. But when the artist doing the covering is one of the magnitude of Patti Smith things are bound to be a little different then what we have come to expect of most cover albums. For Smith fans familiar with her past work, which is scattered with cover tunes here and there, this album may come as no surprise. But the quality of its contents may take some aback just a bit as Smith takes these old favorites and makes them undeniably hers while retaining all the things which made them great to start with.
There is nothing radical or daring about the faithfully rendered tunes we find on Twelve
. Among the mix is a fairly by the numbers take on The Rolling Stones '60's killer Gimme Shelter
and an entertaining stab at the old Tears For Fears mega hit Everybody Wants To Rule The World
where Smith sounds at least half her age, pouting into the mic like one of todays fly by night American Idol driven pop stars. Yet as ordinary as most of these covers are others such as the opening Jimi Hendrix classic Are You Experienced
, which is as dreamy and otherworldly as the original, and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit
with its galloping banjo and low fuzz guitar, are stimulating and interesting in a way that is both satisfying and comfortably predictable. And then of course there is that
And it is that voice which is the main thing that sets this collection apart from what otherwise may have been a somewhat redundant cause. Breathing new life into tired old tunes like The Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit
and The Doors Soul Kitchen
, where Smith turns downright sultry, this would be a challenge for most any artist, especially considering the kit glove treatment given the arrangements and performances, neither of which stray from the classic rock vibe of the long ago originals. But Smith pulls it off, coming in as from another planet and giving these songs some much needed CPR. Missteps include a stab at The Allman Brothers Midnight Rider
which is simply ill suited lyrically for the artist, and Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise
, which no matter what simply makes us recall Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise
with a little chuckle. Thankfully these two of twelve close the set and in between we get the above stated plus a gentle, touching rendition of Neil Young's Helpless
, a buoyant take on Paul Simon's The Boy In The Bubble
, and album highlight Changing Of The Guards
, which is performed just like Joan Baez may have done it way back when. But in this case it is Patti who is Dylan's girl, and that suits this great, obscure Zimmy nugget just fine.
Smith may take some criticism as an artist for this low key affair. Long known as "punk rock's poet laureate" not only is their not a hint of punk style on this album, but not even one punk rock song. No tributes to CBGB, the old "scene", Richard Hell, The Ramones, or even Smith's old cohorts Lenny Kaye (who in fact performs with original Patti Smith Group members on the album) and John Cale. Hippie songs from the '60's, some '70's rock, a couple of hits from the '80's, a decade and a half old Nirvana classic. This is the music Smith recalls on Twelve
, and she recalls it with all the spirit and conviction her now sixty years of living and over forty years of performing will allow. Always more beatnik then punk anything, Smith makes these tame old songs very comfortable to listen to and enjoy. Seemingly not wanting to make a mess or fuss, grown up Patti looks back on these tunes with ease and takes them down like she was always an insider in the game rather then the outsider she is known as. And through her remarkable voice these well worn classics come alive once again.