Patti Smith : Banga
There have been three broad periods in Patti Smith’s artistic career: the early years as a poet and occasional actor on the fringes of the New York arts scene; the CBGBs era, when Smith coupled her razor-sharp poetry with the abrasive sounds of the New York punk scene; and the successful ‘comeback’ years, when Smith re-emerged as a public performer following the death of husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith.
Throughout each period, Smith has remained an artist of considerable critical repute – anyone who saw her last bank of Australian shows can testify to the continuing intensity of her live appearances – in fact, there is scant evidence to suggest Smith is either softening or tiring or her anointed role as punk poetress. Smith’s latest record, Banga, locates Smith back in her original street poet days. Banga is something of an odyssey for both Smith, and her long-standing guitarist Lenny Kaye: Amerigo explores the complex cultural history of the United States, while April Fool is replete with the child-like excitement of Just Kids, Smith’s recent memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
On Fuji-san Smith contemplates the dramatic events of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan, with a soundtrack that could have been plucked from a Bruce Springsteen session; the intensity of the title track throws back to the angry-punk tenor of Horses. Maria captures Smith at her most romantic; Mosaic is deep and meaningful, the poet transposing her insightful social commentary into pop musical form; Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter) is Rimbaud incarnate, replete with vivid imagery while Lenny Kaye offers up shards of Velvet Underground noise as accompaniment.
And just before the concluding cover of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush – featuring Smith’s children Jesse and Jackson – there’s the ten-minute epic of Constantine’s Dream. In the hands of others, it’d be indulgent; in Patti Smith’s careful grasp, it’s a journey of spiritual illumination. Age shall not weary Patti Smith, and for that we must all be eternally grateful.
BY PATRICK EMERY
Best Track: Constantine’s Dream
If You Like These, You'll Like This: TELEVISION and Sam Shepherd’s plays
In A Word: Poetry