This has been a good period for Patti Smith. At least vis-à-vis acknowledgment and recognition for her 30+-year career in public. She received an Order des Arts et des Lettres from the French culture ministry in ’05. This year she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Recognition from the French, laudable as it may be, surely didn’t do a heck of a lot for Jerry Lewis’s career. Chances are, the same could be said for Smith (i.e., you’re not likely to move music in France or elsewhere as a result). And as for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—think about it this way: In order to get into Cooperstown, Akron, or other places called “hall of fame” it is generally necessary to be retired for some period of time. That doesn’t do a whole lot for one’s on-going career.
All of this notwithstanding, Smith is putting out music. Arguably (and measurably, charts-wise), Smith’s most successful song is “Because the Night,” which appears on Easter (1978). Some people, upon hearing it, may think that she’s covering Bruce Springsteen. That’s not the case. Smith and Springsteen co-wrote the song. His version appears on Live: 1975-85; he didn’t do it as a studio cut. Still, it sort of seems like it is his song, doesn’t it?
Smith is no stranger to covers. On her first LP, Horses (’75), she did a rendition of Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” On her 2002 disc, Land, she covered Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” And with Twelve, she has produced what is easy the most accessible album she has ever released, as it consists of covers of 12 songs from performers including Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and The Rolling Stones.
While Smith often sings with a throatiness that seems to indicate that she could kick the collective asses of, say, those who produce GloNo, her version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” sounds, well, like a girl. Not sweet or saccharine like disposable pop princesses—sort of like an Altoid, but still in the range of something that one doesn’t ordinarily associate with the sound that she has produced for lo these many years.
Overall, Twelve is a pleasant album, an adjective that one probably doesn’t first think of with reference to Patti Smith. Could it be that she recognizes that it is necessary to, in effect, get while the getting is good, and to get out a disc that fans will need for their collections and that those who are unfamiliar with her work but who are keen on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” might pick up?
Previously: Previously: Patti Smith at CBGB (and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers) and Patti Smith: A Beacon in the City of Lights.