Even 37 years after the release of her highly influential debut album Horses, Patti Smith still holds a candle to the mysterious air she created in Horses right up to her latest album, Banga. The Godmother of Punk Rock changes her dynamic, and indulges in a softer melancholic sound with her latest release. A shock more than a surprise, but the 65 year old adds some of her usual masculine-feminine clash as she has done with previous albums.
Smith has been highly regarded since debut release in 1975: a heavy weight to carry for a young woman, accidently falling into the spotlight, but a great start for any career. Her burning passion and raw energy are what set her a part from most female solo artists of that era, and many males. Smith broke the rules of the 70’s and introduced a heavier sound: both musically and lyrically. She fused poetry with her harsh sound to create something unique, ambitious, and addictive. This style later influenced another well-regarded musician, PJ Harvey, who explores a grunge sound rather than punk. So, not only can Smith produce influential albums, but she inspires influential people.
Fighting through to 2012, Smith releases Banga on June 1st; five years since her last release of Twelve. She features less and less of her punk rock roots over the years, but still holds on to her boundless raw energy. The opening track, Amerigo, demonstrates that softer touch of Smith, and features many parts of her speaking between singing, showing infusions of poetry, a trademark of hers. The fluidity of the song is perfect, as it moves straight into the second track, April Fool, with both songs having similar melodies.
The two opening tracks delicately indicate and prepare you for a more feminine album, rather than her androgynous punches in previous albums. But, when Fuji-San kicks in, you feel her rock’n’roll roots shine through her words. With a 70’s Bob Dylan-esque sound, she embraces what she knows best, but continues to add her new found feminine flare. The song features a subtle psychedelic guitar riff, reflecting that 70’s kick of Janis Joplin.
The influence of Joplin continues onto the following track, This is the Girl, where a folk sound is rooted with The Doors style vocals. Again, the song is reverting back to the gentle sound of the first three tracks. The manifestation of multiple era influences result in a unique aspect for Smith to adventure. Tried and tested by many musicians, it can only take the experienced to fully accomplish this ambitious move.
The rest of the album continues that delicacy ignited in the beginning of the album, with the exception of Banga. A strong, reassuring song with an edge of masculinity. Don’t be expecting another Patti Smith album with her typical rock’n’roll edge executed to perfection, this is the last track of rock, and at that, it isn’t as harsh as Smith’s earlier releases.
The album as a whole fits in well with the current popularity of indie and alternative-folk music. She makes her music sound fresh, and she would appear to be young to the uneducated. Smith is a musician beyond her time, and would be easily enjoyed by any newcomer today. Her vast range of albums with a variety of sounds, Smith has something to offer anyone, from every generation.
The only negative criticism I have to give on the album is the track listings. I feel like a broken record, as I have noted this on multiple reviews. From This is the Girl, to Banga, to Maria, it goes from soft, harsh and soft again. I feel this is hard to follow, switching moods too abruptly, and not getting to experience one tone for long enough to enjoy it. Then again, this is Patti Smith, I’m sure she knows what she is doing.
Sarah Keary | Our Vinyl Contributor