Patti Smith & Kevin Shields
The Coral Sea


4.0
excellent

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
July 15th, 2008 | 19 replies | 7,931 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Post-rock poetry.

In my recent feature on My Bloody Valentine's reunion shows (found here), I touched upon the notion of just how much the process of canonization can change people's perceptions. Handy, then, that just two weeks later an album appears that proves my point; and one involving Kevin Shields, no less. Numerous reviews of this live album (recorded over two nights at the Royal Festival Hall, one is 2005 and one in 2006) have already appeared both in print and online, and yet I haven't seen one that has addressed the most obvious point here. It's Patti Smith. It's Kevin Shields. Isn't the very idea that these two are collaborating fundamentally weird to anybody else?

Think about it. Patti Smith, at her peak, was a firebrand, an artist who knew what point she wanted to make and who made it in no uncertain terms. She redefined gender roles in rock, she set the tone for the punk revolution that followed her almost instantly, and she announced herself to the world with the declaration that 'Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine'. At her core, she was and always has been an earthly figure, something confirmed by her excursions into beat poetry, her professed influences from Jim Morrison, her covers of songs by artists like Van Morrison, Chris Kenner, and Bruce Springsteen, and even her songs titles ("Rock'n'Roll Nigger", anyone?). Kevin Shields could not be more different from this. His work often takes upon a shell-like quality in the way it suggests oceans of hidden depths that one can never truly access. His music is essentially ethereal, intangible.

And yet, somewhere between Rolling Stone, Q, NME, RateYourMusic, MOJO, PitchforkMedia, Metacritic, the ever-expanding blogosphere, AlbumVote, Rocklist, The Wire, Last.fm, and this very site, across more Top 100 lists than any of us would care to count, we've become conditioned to accept that Patti Smith and Kevin Shields belong to the same club, in the same way that a collaboration between Chuck D and Bob Dylan probably wouldn't raise many eyebrows these days either. Look at the links- both have one masterpiece (Horses and Loveless, of course), both have one deeply average album that has effectively become over-rated by proxy (Easter and Isn't Anything), and both have remained quiet for such long periods that there will be interest in anything they do. This, though, is metadata. None of it suggests what The Coral Sea will actually sound like, or whether it will work.

Well, fittingly for a collaboration between figures as different as these two, one of them takes the lead and dominates proceedings. And in spite of this being the first album Kevin Shields has released since Loveless (an event that has been talked to death for the past 16 years), here it's Patti Smith. The text of the album is taken from her epic poem The Coral Sea, which was published in 1996, and Patti performs a passionate, involved reading of it, surrounded by an ambiance reminiscent of Diamanda Galas' Plague Mass shorn of the pyrotechnics (although her voice does eventually break into screams on disc 2). If you're looking for a reference point amidst her more famous material, then of course "Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De)" is the obvious suggestion. This very rarely breaks into rock'n'roll territory, though - from Patti's end this is pure poetry, pure emotion, unfiltered by musical constraints like melody and harmony. Nothing that could be considered singing appears until the album is over fourty minutes old. As such it's more believable than "Land". Not that one could accuse this of being anything else, mind; the poem, and by extension the album, is a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer who took the iconic shot that adorns the front cover of Horses, and who remained a good friend (and lover) to Smith until his death in 1989.

Kevin Shields' contribution to proceedings is naturally more understated, taking a supporting role for the vast majority of the album's length (he gets top billing right at the end of disc 1, though). His guitar playing, which is the only music on this album, has a film score sweep and post-rock bent to it, reminding one of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, some of Brian Eno's work, and yes, Loveless. In fact Shields seems to move closer and closer to the sounds of Loveless as the album progresses, in response to Smith's rising intensity. Naturally, the music and the poetry sync up brilliantly, moving as one through turbulence and unease, calm and introspection. Be very skeptical of the claims that Shields' playing was entirely improvised - I somehow doubt that these two people could have developed an understanding as telepathic as this without working together and rehearsing closely.

Ultimately this is very hard to judge as pop music. Judged as art, however, it's sensual, insidious, cathartic, and quite beautiful. A lot of people will dismiss this as pretentious (particularly considering its incredible length), but whether they have a point or not is largely irrelevant. If you fancy an excursion into something different, this will do the trick very nicely.



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user ratings (2)
Chart.
4.5
superb

Comments:Add a Comment 
Iai
Emeritus
July 15th 2008



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hooray for ampersands.

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 15th 2008



2806 Comments


Just say and.

I need this.

Neoteric
July 15th 2008



3243 Comments


I will be listening to this in 5 minutes.

astrel
July 15th 2008



2613 Comments


I need to check this out.

Nice new avatar Iai.

Jom
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2008



2593 Comments


no no no i fixed the ampersand life is good

foreverendeared
July 15th 2008



14678 Comments


really great review. sounds interesting

AggravatedYeti
July 15th 2008



7684 Comments


So far this is pretty awesome.

joshuatree
Emeritus
July 15th 2008



3743 Comments


this sounds great.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2008



17114 Comments


I must have this!

Digging: Sad Lovers and Giants - Feeding the Flame

Fort23
July 15th 2008



2469 Comments


this looks super duper

Ampersand
July 15th 2008



111 Comments


Yes, hooray for Ampersand! I mean, er, never mind.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
July 15th 2008



20800 Comments


I'm interested to hear what other people think about this. "This sounds interesting" may be the most appropriate comment so far.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
July 16th 2008



17114 Comments


Ok, so i just got this.
On first listen I really agree with your closing paragraph. Patti Smiths poetry on this is intriguingly beautiful (both in content and in the way it is spoken). The only thing is that the music doesnt work all that well without it since it only accentuates the mood. But i take it that thats how it was intended. I guess it will take more listens to sift through it all.

BlindWriting
July 16th 2008



102 Comments


Excellent excellent review. I'm much more curious to hear this now than I was before.

jrowa001
July 16th 2008



8749 Comments


this looks up my alley

burton.and.gas
July 17th 2008



641 Comments


must check this out, soon

MrKite
August 5th 2008



5020 Comments


this is so good. at one point the word`s made me see what she vaguely what she was describing.

Iai
Emeritus
December 11th 2008



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Why am I still the only person who's rated this?

Asiatic667
December 11th 2008



4647 Comments


your prob'ly the only one who's listened to it.
Just a "Question"



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