Patti Smith - Banga - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Patti Smith - Banga

by Alexis Somerville Rating:8 Release Date:2012-06-04

Patti Smith recorded her debut album Horses at Electric Lady Studios in New York in 1975. The rest is rock history, and she has continued to release records in between child-rearing, writing poetry and exploring the world. She has also starred in art house films, iconic photographs and video installations. She recently wrote the brilliant memoir, Just Kids, an account of her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Her last album of original songs was 2004's Trampin', followed by Twelve in 2007, a collection of cover versions of everything from Stevie Wonder's 'Pastime Paradise' to Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.'

There was a song on Horses entitled 'Elegie', on which she sang: "I think it's sad, it's much too bad/ That our friends can't be with us today." Thirty-seven years later, Smith returned to Electric Lady to record Banga. It contains several elegies to her friends, peers and idols. 'This is the Girl' was written for Amy Winehouse. It's a sweet, understated ballad and the distinctive Smith drawl prevents it from becoming too saccharine.

The charmingly simple 'Maria' pays homage to late actress Maria Schneider. Elsewhere, there are dedications to the living as well as to fictional and historic figures. 'Nine' was apparently written as a birthday gift for Johnny Depp. The title track is named after Pontius Pilate's dog in the book The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Smith has long been inspired by the likes of The Doors, The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, spinning long yarns over music as part of a tradition that fitted beautifully into times of change in the 70s. This worked well in her earlier recordings but to some extent it was of its time and in a modern context she's often better when she's writing straightforward rock and ballads.

'Tarkovsky (The Second Stop is Jupiter)' finds her in dramatic lyrical mode: "The sea is a morgue/ The needle and the gun/ These things float in blood that has no name." 'Constantine's Dream' is more than 10 minutes long and strays off into wandering hippie-poet territory. The poetry itself is as affecting and passionate as always, however.

'Seneca' is an example of when her spoken word tracks work; a pretty, folky respite from the intense psychedelia which begins to dominate the latter half of the album. Opening with stark, simple acoustic guitar, it transitions nicely from spoken lyrics to the more melodic chorus. 'April Fool' features Television's Tom Verlaine on lead guitar and is a fluid and refreshing pop song, the obvious choice for first single. As well as Verlaine, she is joined on the album by the usual suspects: Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee Daugherty.

Aside from being a series of eulogies and homages, Banga is also a look into the future of the planet, ending with a cover of Neil Young's 'After the Goldrush'. She makes it her own, with her unique approach to vocal phrasing (singing significantly lower than Young of course) and has updated the 1970s lyrics to "Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century". It works, if you ignore the little kids who join in with the final chorus, evoking charity Christmas singles. Smith's style is distinctive enough that she can make cover versions sound pertinent, as evidenced on Twelve.

She may be enamoured with her heroes; literary, musical and otherwise, but Smith is a great writer and musician in her own right. She's also an explorer and thrives on new experiences. In the opening track, 'Amerigo' (the man after whom America was named) she sings: "And it's time to go/ but I'd like to send you just a few lines from the new world." Smith has always been forward-thinking and adventurous, and it's fitting that fellow innovators and explorers should embody her muse. With such a rich pool of inspiration at her disposal, she shows no signs of stagnating.

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