Patti Smith – Banga – album review

Patti Smith – Banga (Columbia)
CD / DL
Available 4 June 2012

The long awaited album from Patti Smith might fall short of matching her outstanding debut Horses but is nevertheless is an interesting journey through folk-rock and heavier beats from this founding figure of American punk rock. 

Thirty seven years on from her epoch defining debut Horses and its only slightly less satisfying follow ups Radio Ethiopia and Easter-lightning was unlikely to strikle twice- Patti Smith finally delivers the spiritual follow up Banga.

Far superior to the Todd Rundgren bombastic mess which was Wave- the actual follow up- Smith’s artistic re-emergence-after brave attempts in the nineties- actually began with Trampin’ in 2004 but that album, although housing some fantastic songs such as ”˜Mother Rose’ and ”˜Ghandi’, was still a little clunky in its production values.

No such problems surround Banga however as the sonic terrain is perfectly suited to Smith’s vocals which have never been more poignant yet still resonating defiance and vitality despite her maturity whilst her long standing band have never sounded tighter. Songs about Amy Winehouse, Maria Schneider alongside a birthday gift to Johnny Depp and the tragic Japanese earthquakes of 2011 are among the subject matter whilst collaborators such as Sun Ra and Tom Verlaine assist in musical duties.

Although there are no ”˜wild card up my sleeve’ surprises of her debut the album kicks off with the announcement’ We were going to see the world’ then launches into ”˜Amerigo’ which is reminiscent melodically of the cyclical swirls of the Kinks’ ”˜Waterloo Sunset’ and possesses some of that songs melancholia. ”˜April Fool’ sounds like an aural interpretation of her Just Kids biography and you can almost visualise her and Robert Mapplethorpe taking off on their bikes to embrace their young adventures to change the world. The Tom Verlaine guitar contributions emphasise this feeling of a young couple in the spring of their years.

Always with an eye on contemporary and current issues ”˜Fuji-San- is a heartfelt paean to the last years Earthquake disaster in Tohoku. ”˜This is The Girl’ is the Winehouse inspired number worthy of the Shangri-La’s and Phil Spector-as channelled by Winehouse herself- featuring lines about a ”˜girl who crossed the line’ and ”˜who yearned to be heard’; much like Smith in her younger days. The difference is Smith is a survivor and there has rarely been any hint of vulnerability in her life, career or her vocals.

Other stand outs on the album are the birthday gift for Johnny Depp of ”˜Nine’, the Americana of ”˜Mosiac’, the musical holocaust of ”˜Banga’and the Sun Ra assisted ”˜Tarkovsky’-probably one of her more accessible spoken word tracks which tend to divide her followers from the non-believers- but the album works extremely well as a cohesive whole. In this it is probably her most successful work since Horses although it lacks the energy and revolutionary powers of that career defining debut.

When it comes to the closer, Smith interprets Neil Young’s ”˜After the Goldrush’ alone with only her daughter Jesse’s piano accompaniment, lending it her individual insight. Towards the end of the song she is joined by a small group of children whose voices rise in the mix as her own cradling vocal recedes ‘Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century’; though she is not quite on the run but has cleared a path and is making way for the new generation.

If this record does not ever hit the high standards Smith set herself on Horses it comes closer than anything she has done since her seventies heyday and she can always console herself with the fact that even if she doesn’t attain the peaks of that extraordinary debut again then very few have ever come close either.

All words by David Marren.

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