Tuesday, September 20, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 915: Patti Smith

This next disc is another new one (to me). I’ve been really into this artist since Sheila introduced me to her a few months ago.

Disc 915 is….Horses
Artist: Patti Smith

Year of Release: 1975

What’s up with the Cover? Patti Smith looks sexy and dangerous, even when all she’s wearing is a man’s suit.

How I Came To Know It: Sheila introduced me to Pattis Smith when she bought me this album and her 1978 album “Easter” for my birthday this year.

How It Stacks Up:  I have five Patti Smith albums now (obviously, I liked what I heard). Of those five “Horses” is second or third, depending on how I feel about “Waves”. They are so different it is hard to decide, so I’ll leave them in a dead heat until I review that record.

Ratings: 4 stars but almost 5

I try to avoid over contextualizing albums, since I feel the music should speak for itself. However, listening to Patti Smith’s debut record “Horses” it is hard not to feel the weight of musical history bearing down on you. Listening to it I could hear the echoes of Smith’s brilliance echoing through Concrete Blonde, Sleater Kinney, The Clash, Nick Cave and countless more. If you love exploring the roots of modern rock and roll, this is a must-listen.

This record is visceral, powerful and musically brave. We’re lucky it came out in 1975, because I’m not sure record labels would take a chance on it now. Patti Smith is punk before punk was even fully formed as a concept, but to call this music simply punk would be to grossly oversimplify it. She brings in elements of new wave, spoken word poetry, pop and blues rock to name just a few.

Listening to “Horses” I felt like I was standing at the headwater of all music, before it had a chance to divide itself into separate sounds; before it had to pick sides. Patti Smith just does whatever the hell she wants, and borrows from whatever music she wants to borrow from. Is that a smoky bar crooner persona on “Birdland”? Maybe at first, but it is also performance art piece floating in a soup of progressive rock sounds.

Birdland,” which is only one of two meandering nine minute monsters on the record, isn’t even one of my favourite songs on this record. For that I’ll take its Side B sister track, the abominably named “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(De)”. Seriously, that’s the song’s name. Did I mention that Patti Smith does whatever the hell she wants?

Horses…” is a powerful track, drawing in fifties and sixties dances like the twist, the watusi and the mashed potato. It makes you either want to dance or incite a revolution, and from moment to moment you’re not sure which one you want more. In short, it’s rock and roll, baby!

Both “Birdland” and “Land…” are such complex and layered songs I could probably write a whole review on just them but the album has a lot to offer.

The record opens with Van Morrison’s 1964 song “Gloria,” but in Smith’s hands the anthemic party pleaser of Van Morrison becomes something larger and darker. Apart from the chorus, the song is largely reinvented, starting the record off with the slouching, sneer of an opening lyric:

“Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”

The record ranges all over from here. In addition to long meandering tracks, there are powerful songs about fraying dreams like “Free Money” and groovy new wave backbeats on the lyrically drenched “Kimberly” (which is co-written by Blue Oyster Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier). “Kimberley” is expressing love for someone, but truthfully it is going to take years to even begin plumbing the depths of this album. For now I’ll just share a bit of the song’s lyrics for your consideration:

“So I ran through the fields as the bats with their baby vein faces
Burst from the barn and flames in a violent violet sky,
And I fell on my knees and pressed you against me.
Your soul was like a network of spittle,
Like glass balls movin' in like cold streams of logic,
And I prayed as the lightning attacked
That something will make it go crack, something will make it go crack.”

The original recording ends with the soft piano track “Elegie” which sounds like what a depressed walk in the rain feels like. My version is a re-issue that ends with another cover, this time of the Who’s “My Generation.” Unlike the experimental treatment given to “Gloria” on “My Generation” Smith opts to play it straight, albeit with three times the ferocity present in the original. Listening to it, I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the original, now that I’ve heard the cover done in all its punk glory.

Most of what Smith does here has no business working, and yet it does. “Horses” is a fearless record that inspired generations of musicians to follow. Yes, you should buy it.

Best tracks: Gloria: In Excelsis, Redondo Beach, Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer(De), Free Money, Kimberly

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