This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Patti Smith, Twelve. September 28, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
I was going to do a piece on Trampin’ which is a great – relatively, all the way back in 2004 – recent album from Patti Smith, but then it struck me that one aspect of Smith that I’ve always loved has been her willingness to reference her influences, filter them – as it were, through her very individual voice, losing nothing but adding something extra. It’s an ability she has to inhabit those influences, shape them to her vision, make them her own. The best example of this, in a career where she was never shy to play covers is here unusual selection from the mid 2000s, on the album, Twelve, which has – erm… thirteen covers.
They range from The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Tears for Fears, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder through to REM. But perhaps the most audacious cover is a reworking of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Here she eschews percussion for reverberating waves of acoustic guitars and banjos underpinned by a none-more bass bassline. The overall effect is remarkable. Rootsy, almost verging on country and not least when her voice arrives, which oddly has some of the rasp of Cobain – perhaps even more of a rasp. But in this reading it is the words that vie with the music for pre-eminence. They’re crystal clear.
She brings her own lyrics to the feast, but somehow whether you find meaning in them or not in them they seem to work. She’s always been great at declaiming in an almost religious or ritualistic way, and it works. ‘Stoned out of their shaved heads’… indeed.
That may sound like a peak, and it is, but so is the version of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, which recasts the song as not so much as spiky psychedelia as wig-out space rock, even perhaps shoe gaze. The guitars howl against her half spoken words and suddenly it’s 1970 again.
The Stone’s “Gimme Shelter” is a song more sinned against than sinning at this stage, so good in the original that that which has come after has sometimes served to obscure its excellence (though I’ve never much liked the Stone’s to be honest). But this is a great cover, dispensing with none of its riffy authenticity while adding the sheer power of Smith’s voice.
The Doors, natch. For years I wouldn’t listen to them having loved them in my teens. It took three decades for me to realise that cut through the bullshit around them, that awful energy sapping mythos, and they were as good as they were (though nothing will convince me as regards Pink Floyd, bar “Wish You Were Here”). Smith clearly never forgot and her version of “Soul Kitchen” is perfect, playful, from her spoken ‘tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick’ just before she sings ‘well the clock says it’s time to go…’
Smith is a contentious character for some – though in her own way deeply political (as on the Trampin’ album which amongst other things is explicitly anti-Iraq War), but I’ve always thought her actually pretty grounded whatever her preoccupations and however far she seems to wonder conceptually. It perhaps has something to do with the fact that she writes and recognises great rock songs. “Stride of the Mind” from Trampin’ has a killer riff, the sort that those unbeholden to metal sometimes seem to deliver with greater ease than might be expected.
But as for Twelve, you won’t find a more interesting and in a way more challenging sequence of songs to cover. A great album.
I throw in “Stride of the Mind” and “Peaceable Kindgom” from Trampin’ for the sake of compare and contrast.
And entirely gratuitous Church reference, seeing as almost every This Weekend post these days appears to have to have one – Jay Dee Daugherty, Smith’s long time drummer played with the Church in the early 1990s for a couple of years.
Smells like Teen Spirit
Gimme Shelter (Live)
Are You Experienced?
Peaceable Kingdom (from Trampin’) about Rachel Corrie
Stride of the Mind from Trampin’