Jun 08, 2012 Issue #41 - Yeasayer
"We danced naked as they baptized in the rain of the new world," Patti Smith incants at the denouement of "Amerigo," the opening number of her 11th proper studio album Banga. The track's a gentle clarion call, a pensive, gently sawing mid-tempo ballad, intimating the metaphysical in a manner akin to "Dancing Barefoot," Smith's classic from 1978's Wave. But this album never panders to cheap nostalgia. On the contrary, it finds Smith sounding utterly rejuvenated, with a heady idealism imbuing her finest record in more than two decades.
The LP, Smith's first since her National Book Award win for her acclaimed 2010 memoirs Just Kids, is certainly the punk progenitor's most anticipated since her 1996 comeback Gone Again. But while that album found Smith often voraciously over-reaching, Banga is the singular, self-assured work of a songwriter with little left to prove. She's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has influenced legions of musicians and writers, and has a peerless legacy beyond reproach.
Yet, as a testament to her legend, she often sounds like a kid on the Bowery circa 1974 throughout Banga, unafraid to share her most vulnerable bad diary days and express herself in a manner utterly devoid of guile. Yet her work here still engenders a palpable sense of danger that acts half her age couldn't approach if they were given a how-to manual. This doesn't manifest itself in sheer volume, however. It's in the guts and élan of her delivery, be it the scarred balladry of "Seneca," or her woozy, vertiginous take on Neil Young's eco-disaster anthem "After the Gold Rush." These 12 superb numbers find Smith coming to terms with love and loss-the inevitable deterioration of the corporeal over the course of time and distance.
"We didn't know the precariousness of our young powers," Smith croons on the sublime "Maria," her flush vitality belying the track's rearview mirror pragmatism. And the wizened punk rocker imparts a certain heady wisdom on the track, her fire and brimstone of yore mitigated by dignified resignation and somber acceptance of mortality. This beguiling sentiment is captured with wide-eyed alacrity throughout the astonishing Banga. (www.pattismith.net)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10