Its a strange thing that something completely invisible, tasteless, and odorless can convey more emotion than almost anything else. Music can inspire, despair, enlighten, and befuddle. Its one of the most powerful tools in media, and it can evoke more feelings than almost any other entertainment. For me, there are always certain albums that when I listen to I grin crawls across my face. And strangely enough, one of them is this here comeback from 'the poet laureate of punk.' Now that’s quite an odd term to be throwing around, especially considering its used to describe a woman who's never once made a gold record. But its a term which perfectly fits Patti Smith, an artist who somehow fused beautiful Dylan-esque poetry with the raw energy of the emerging punk scene.
is not the kind of record one would expect to be receiving so much praise. Though artists later day albums can often be very good, even excellent, they are rarely considered classics or most haves. But this here record, this is different. Patti knows when to make her songs urgent, and when to make them relaxing (just listen to the difference in album highlights Cartwheels
and Radio Baghdad
.) She really comes into her own on both sides of the spectrum, creating some amazing melancholy moods on the ballads, while inciting vigor into the rockers. Its also no surprise that the record is largely political, but Mother Rose
is a deeply felt tribute to Patti's recently deceased mother, and My Blakean Year
is a wizened introspective. Needless to say, Patti's lyrical skill hasn't been dulled by the passage of time, instead it seems almost to have been sharpened. And longtime band members Lenny Kaye (guitars) Jay Dee Daugherty (drums) and Tony Shanahan (bass/keys) augmented by newer guitarist Oliver Ray sound simply great backing Patti up.
The albums kicks off with a strident riff, a solid groove, and Patti's unmistakable voice as Jubilee
kicks out of the speakers. Patti sings 'bout her own brand a patriotism ("With children's happy cries Hand in hand/We're dancing around In a freedom ring") before she speaks a bit of one of her poems. However, Patti really hits her stride with Mother Rose
a touching song about her dead mother. Her vocals melodies, and her bands instrumentation are perfect for the mellow mood, and the songs closes with a flurry of overdubbed voices. Stride of the Mind
however, is a more forgettable track despite some nice riffs and a fun chorus.
, up next, is a real highlight, with a fantastic guitar intro. Patti's voice has rarely fit a song this well, and her lyrics fit the song like a glove ("Pretty in pink It makes me wonder/What could ever bring you down/I see tears falling/From those eyes of brown") as the song's tone ebbs up and down. But once again, a change of tone is heralded as Patti moves into Ghandi
, one of two extended pieces, its a groovy rock clocking in a over nine minutes. Patti sings (yells to be exact) about the songs namesake, and his achievements for India while her band create a wall of sound in the background. The record moves into Trespass
another calm pieces with nice backing guitar and a steady Hammond organ part.
Guttural strings open My Blakean Year
, as Patti's voice takes over with some nice introspective lyrics as she warns us "one road is paved in gold, one road is just a road." Another calm track follows in the form of Cash
, another great song with more great lyrics, this time about mortality ("It's only time That you spend/Its only life/ That you're cashing in") and more mellow instrumentation. Peaceable Kingdom
follows, a ballad like the previous track. Its a nice chill-out song, although not particularly memorable. But the albums apex follows, with Radio Baghdad
(a little tip of the hat to Patti's sophomore album, Radio Etheopia
.) At over twelve minutes, Patti once again screams out spoken word poetry, as the music twists through disquieting calm and fiery noise.
The album itself closes with just the sound of a piano and Patti's voice as she sings the old folk tune Trampin'
. The strain of years and a lifetime's worth of triumphs and defeats shine through the piano keys and Patti's gruff voice. To me this is really a fantastic album. Its not perfect by any stretch of means, and I may be overrating it, but that’s just how I feel about it. The music is organic, and its timeless. Its Rock 'n Roll as it was meant to be played.
My Blakean Year