Release Date: Jun 5, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Patti Smith records are as much about proto-rap poetic ritual as verse-chorus rocking. Her first set of new music since Just Kids – the 2010 memoir that found her dancing barefoot into the literary mainstream – has some sweet moments of song. But the real magic happens when words start flying off the grooves. "We'll break all the rules," she sings on "April Fool," a beckoning single that breaks none but boasts exquisite guitar by Smith's old pal Tom Verlaine.
Ancient pathways, Nubian vows, bridges of magpies, whispering saints and rusty bikes piloted by writers in tattered coats are only a few of the often overwhelming array of images that Patti Smith uses to help illuminate the 12 new songs on Banga, her first CD since Trampin’ came out in 2004. On what is certainly her best album in many, many years Smith reminds her listeners that—along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen—she is one of the few artists working in the popular music arena who has a literary sensibility that draws from a well of culture that goes far beyond rock’s tired paradigms. Though she’s only 65 years old, her command of language and metaphor that often demands or expects a familiarity with classical literature and thought makes her seem as if she’s from a far more archaic world than her years indicate.
It’s hard to review something by as consummate an artist as Patti Smith without just listing all the similes for “outstanding”. Although Smith hasn’t released an album of original material since 2004’s Trampin’ (2007’s Twelve was a covers album), her 2010 memoir, Just Kids received a similar helping of praise and even received a National Book Award. Banga, Smith’s 11th studio album, serves as a glorious refresher on Smith’s talent as musician while also upholding her reputation as a writer.
Midway through the album, she has taken them all the way into space, returns them to the simplicity of butterflies and magpies and then launches them out into the stratosphere again. Smith balances out ethereal songs like “Constantine’s Dream,” an improvised examination of art and nature, with concrete reality, basing one song around Amerigo Vespucci’s voyage to the New World (“Amerigo”). The ever-selfless Smith makes room for a few tribute songs on Banga, to the Japanese people who suffered in last year’s tsunami and earthquake (“Fuji-san”); to Amy Winehouse (“This Is the Girl”) and Johnny Depp (“Nine”).
The 65-year-old Priestess of Punk recently roared back into the zeitgeist thanks to her National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir, Just Kids. So perhaps it makes sense that Smith’s 11th album is her most energized in years, if not decades. Relieved of the protest poetry of 2004’s enjoyable but politically burdened Trampin‘, Banga feels like both a return to form and a renewal — with Lenny Kaye’s Sonic Youth-ful guitar meshing with Smith’s literary lyricism the way it did when they were, well, just kids.
Poet, punk, photographer, author…it’s far too fashionable for artists to decide that talent in one form means that they are talented everywhere else, but Patti Smith is one of the few who has earned her titles. Since her last album, she has won the Polar Music Prize, the National Book Award, and received a pair of honorary doctorates—quite remarkable. So it’s hardly a surprise that Banga, Smith’s first album of original material in eight years,sounds so unique yet so familiar.
Listening to a Patti Smith album always feels like an invitation to glimpse her roster of influences. From Horses onward, Smith has paid dues to Hendrix, Sinatra, Baudelaire, Pasolini, Van Morrison, Chris Kenner, Elvis, and, most of all, Arthur Rimbaud, the patron saint of her ‘70s output. Remarking on that rare quality in an artist to steal-and-tell, critic Luc Sante described Smith as “president of a fan club that had just one member but a hundred idols.” The list of idols grows longer on Smith’s latest, Banga, an album smattered with allusions both academic and popular, from 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca to Amy Winehouse, The Master and Margarita to The Hunger Games.
A kinder, gentler but no less edgy Patti Smith releases her first album of original material in eight years and sets the bar higher for anyone else who even tries to effectively marry poetry and rock. These songs aren’t as loud or frantic as those of her late 70s heyday, but they resonate just as boldly as she moans, chants, speaks and spits out lyrics with the grace and determination of Mohammad Ali in his prime. It’s not an easy listen—the vast majority of her music never has been—but if you’re a fan and/or prepared for the challenge, this is as potent, heady and uncompromising as she has ever gotten, and with Smith’s storied history as a musical maverick, that’s saying plenty.
"We danced naked as they baptized in the rain of the new world," Patti Smith incants at the denouement of "Amerigo," the opening number of her 11th proper studio album Banga. The track's a gentle clarion call, a pensive, gently sawing mid-tempo ballad, intimating the metaphysical in a manner akin to "Dancing Barefoot," Smith's classic from 1978's Wave. But this album never panders to cheap nostalgia.
Way back in 1975, Patti Smith wanted to destroy music. On her iconic album Horses, the CBGB’s punk queen distorted the familiar landscapes of rock and country music, split their tempos and made them the beds of her bizarre lyrical orgies of alien abduction and rape. The pain expressed in Horses four decades ago wasn’t just described; it took physical form in her molten arrangements and animated beat poetry, contorting and forming in ways that were both blindingly painful and irresistibly evocative.
Of the most recent phases of Patti Smith’s musical output (always surprising since 1996’s Kurt Cobain tribute ‘Gone Again’), ‘Banga’ is by far the most successful. On it she strikes a compelling balance between poetry and musicality. The instrumentation soundtracks the imagery, rather than simply buffering it with noise. Like murder ballads turned on their heads, she offers a message of hope in a world of turmoil.
In the eight years since Patti Smith's last studio effort of new, original material, Trampin', she's toured, assembled art installations, had her photographs collected for global exhibition, and written Just Kids, a National Book Award-winning memoir. On Banga, Smith marries together her various forms of literary expression with rock and pop in an iconic assemblage. Her collaborators are (mostly) familiar: guitarist Lenny Kaye, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, bassist Tony Shanahan, guitarist Tom Verlaine, her children Jackson and Jessi, and guitarist Jack Petruzzelli.
People often talk about music fandom as a secular religion, one of many founded in the 20th century to replace the old church. In the communal gig experience there is the rush of elevation. Lyrics are studied like scripture. Fans are devoted to their idols. The trouble is, the idols aren't often ….
There's not much on proto-punk legend Patti Smith's 11th album, Banga, that would have sounded out of place back when she first started blowing minds in the 1970s. In fact, it was recorded in the same studio with most of the same personnel as her 1975 debut, Horses. You don't get the sense that Smith is trying to recreate the youthful urgency of that landmark album, though.
Patti Smith has returned to the poetic-punk format of 1975's Horses, which the Polar prize committee recently described as "Rimbaud with amps". Four of Horses' personnel – Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and Television' Tom Verlaine – are present here. It's a mixture of pop songs and poetic explorations, aided by the instantly resumed chemistry between Kaye's shimmering hooks and Smith's sensual vocals.
Somehow, over the course of the four years it took her to write and record the material on her latest album, Banga, poet-singer-photographer-mother-activist-shaman-clarinetist Patti Smith managed to do some things she hadn't done yet. She acted in a Jean-Luc Godard film, appearing in his 2010 videotape polemic Film Socialisme and, in a highbrow/lowbrow swivel, then later made her television acting debut in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. She wrote her first memoir, Just Kids, a chronicle of her ardent friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, which earned a National Book Award and critical acclaim.
Banga is punk legend™ Patti Smith’s eleventh studio album and as usual Smith’s rough and soulful voice is still capable of sending shivers down the spine. Smith has always been a poet through and through and on Banga she gives the nod to other literary and musical figures from Russian writer Nikolai Gogol who inspired the record’s first single ‘April Fool’ to tragic songstress Amy Winehouse for whom ‘This Is the Girl’ was written. The problem with Patti Smith is that some of her greatest strengths can also be her greatest weaknesses.
Not until the fifth track on Patti Smith’s new album Banga are you reminded why she’s considered one of the foundational figures of American punk rock. “You like that?” she utters at the outset of the song, and then sneers a few verses in a disaffected monotone, raw and powerful like the music she and her downtown New York compatriots wrote in the mid ’70s. Her lyrics ring with a bitterness, full of graphic and visceral images of disgust: “The salivating salvation’s long so long so…” The song in question, the title track “Banga”, is about a dog, specifically Pontius Pilate’s dog in The Master and Margarita by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov.
It may sound like cliché over compliment, but this really is her best LP since Horses. Garry Mulholland 2012 Patti Smith’s very existence as a major, major-label artist flies in the face of music biz logic. The queen of the fierce poet-androgynes hasn’t had a hit single since Because the Night, her 1978 power-ballad co-write with Bruce Springsteen.
PATTI SMITH “Banga” (Columbia) “Banga,” Patti Smith’s first album of new songs since 2004, sets out to dissolve boundaries: between nations, between past and present, between speech and song, between art and life, between her band and fellow musicians. Like her other albums it juxtaposes rockers, lullabies, elegies, incantations, love songs and myths in the making. At 65 she presents herself unburdened by age.