Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1037: Patti Smith

At 30 degrees it was a hot walk home, and while I enjoyed the heat more than I usually do it wore me out a bit. I had to take a nap before I could give this next album the energy and attention it deserved.

Disc 1037 is…Dream of Life
Artist: Patti Smith

Year of Release: 1988

What’s up with the Cover? Patti Smith in what appears to be a jungle, or maybe just a backyard. Hard to tell. She looks very earnest and soulful, with hands artfully placed. Fun fact: this picture was taken by famed photographer Robert Maplethorpe.

How I Came To Know It: Sheila bought me a couple of earlier Patti Smith albums for Christmas a few years back. I loved them both, so when I saw a boxed set of her first five records (including “Dream of Life”) I snapped it up.

How It Stacks Up:  I have five Patti Smith albums and they are all amazing. This makes competition tough, and the best “Dream of Life” could manage was fourth.

Ratings: 4 stars

By the time Patti Smith released “Waves” in 1979 Patti Smith had become famous as a punk, poet and musical prophet. After an almost ten year gap with no new albums, this legacy would have been a lot to live up to. Despite all this pressure, “Dream of Life” is a return to form, reminding anyone who might have forgotten what an artistic force Smith is.

It would have been easy to overreach on this record, or to have it feel dated and stale, but Smith avoids both fates. The punk edge has been rounded out, but the album is still infused with vigor and restless energy. This is an album that shows ten years of maturity, but retains Smith’s revolutionary spirit at its core.

Smith’s vocals remain low and controlled, occasionally switching to introspective spoken word but for the most part full and deep in the throat with a more lyrical and smooth singing style than her earlier work. Her vocals give the songs an anthemic quality, like you are in some dark temple, having the hidden truths of the universe revealed to you.

Much of the album feels upbeat and hopeful, evidenced most obviously on the opening track “People Have the Power.” With its insistent beat and Smith climbing up the majestic melody of the chorus, you feel like there isn’t any social or political problem too big if we all just stand together.

On “Where Duty Calls” she even manages to tackle conflict in the Middle East in a way that makes all the players in that cycle of violence human first, and any other division a distant second. As Smith sees it:

“Forgive them Father
They know not what they do
From the vast portals
of their consciousness
they're calling to you”

Paths That Cross” further demonstrates the strength of community that weaves its way through the record, and the faith Smith puts in connectivity. When Smith sings:

“Speak to me heart, all things renew
hearts will mend, round the bend
Paths that cross will cross again
Paths that cross will cross again”

She comforts you that things will get better, even as she calls on her own inner strength to convince herself of the same. She’s vulnerable, but certain that things will get better.

This record made me feel hopeful  and joyous, without denying the doubts that are a necessary part of true and honest contemplation. The resolute conviction of her youth remains, even though her anger has been replaced with a core of optimism that somehow we’re all gonna get through this.

My copy of the album has two bonus tracks not on the original album, but both fit well thematically, and with them the album remains a tastefully restrained 10 tracks and 51 minutes long. The songs are in a different order from the original vinyl as well, but again, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

In 1988 so much music felt artificial and empty, but Smith bucks the trend with a record that feels raw and real. "Dream of Life" reminds us that it is never too late for a comeback, and never too late to believe in a better world.

Best tracks: People Have the Power, Up There Down There, Paths That Cross, Going Under, The Jackson Song

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