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Patti Smith

Banga (Columbia)

Jun. 14, 2012
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Patti Smith's albums, since her extraordinarily ground-breaking Horses and Easter LP's, are essentially about neo-punk tribalism as a way of being; i.e., there is angst and excitement, optimism and ritualistic anger, but little that is new relative to the art of songwriting.  Banga is in this tradition; it doesn't move forward but sustains her presence for those who desire it.  With words that are uncontrollably impressionistic overall, set upon music that is absolutely thrilling for its depth and wildness, her singing voice does carry the sincere abandon that is expected.

This is her first recording since the magnificent 2010 memoir Just Kids that definitively brought her into the literary world at long last with the authority that her poetry has always lacked. 
One would have preferred an album now that has more to it than the expected twirling, barefoot persona.  “Constantine's Dream,” Banga's apparent centerpiece track, is an elongated anthem to the act of creating art and does begin to barely touch the brilliant insight Just Kids delivered by virtue of its multi-layered narrative, speaking in visceral tongues.  The rest is just lyrical babbling that once was unique and is now passé.

“Amerigo,” the opening track, is the most egregious for its interjected, pointless and bombastic poetry. 
Yes, poetry; not song lyrics.  Part of the song is sung.  Smith's voice is beautiful as never before, really, but then we are brought into trivial poetic interludes that are rather like Dr. Suess' language for pompous hipsters. The album closes with Neil Young's “After The Gold Rush.”  This is an odd choice as it's the best performance on the album, even if we do have Smith's little kids singing kindergarten parts along with her.

On “April's Fool” Patti Smith opines “come…. we'll burn all of our poems.” 
This is intended to be existential but it really is what she should have done, leaving the all-too-narrow space for Lenny Kaye's and Tom Verlaine's guitars with wider opportunities.

Let us not discuss Johnny Depp playing guitars on the title track, please.


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