Patti Smith – Wave

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1. This is to Easter what Radio Ethiopia is to Horses, a decent but ultimately weaker follow-up.

2. George Starostin: “This is the best Patti Smith album ever, and if I have to thank the gruesomely overrated Todd Rundgren for it, I’ll do it without blinking.”

Fuck no, George. The best Patti Smith album is the obvious one. This one is probably fifth at best.

3. Julie Burchill: “Is this the blandest record in the world? Even old Todd’s lack of talent in the production can’t be blamed […] [Patti Smith] has babbled and jived herself into a corner where two mirrors meet and seems to stand there examining herself for the rest of her career, wishing that she could be like Stevie Nicks.”

Hyperbolic, but no, this isn’t the blandest record in the world; I mean, have you heard Silver & Gold?

4. The best description of it that I can find is from Rolling Stone’s Tom Carson: “Clearly, Easter‘s success put a kind of pressure on Smith she hadn’t felt before, and Wave is a very self-conscious follow-up. Success has encouraged all of this artist’s worst vices — her self-indulgence and overweening preciousness — and the new record tries to have it both ways: to retain her big, newfound audience, while allowing her taste for arch, artsy self-glorification and highfalutin poetic nonsense full rein.”

So self-conscious in fact, that following the tiring tour and all the negative criticisms (and you know…starting a family, but that’s not important), she disappeared from the music scene for almost a decade after.

5. Indeed, the album is evenly divided between attempts of “Because the Night 2” (tracks 1-3) and her shamanistic roots (tracks 5-onwards). “Hymn,” the divider, isn’t just a useless interlude, but also gross-sounding (in particular: listen to the way Patti Smith sighs those last few notes. Or better yet: don’t).

Yet, only “Dancing Barefoot” manages to match the fervor of “Because the Night.” “Frederick” is decent at best and certainly nothing to write home about, and the cover of the Byrds’ classic “So You Want to Be (A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star)” is obviously not as good as the original, though the drums pound hard; the best part is when Patti Smith goes off on her own (as she did on her covers of “Hey Joe” or “Gloria”) in the second half before the cascading drum solo.

6. As for the second half, both “Revenge” and “Seven Ways of Going” are melodramatic dirges; the latter is one of her worst vocal performances, pushed to the forefront of the mix so there’s no running from it (the instrumental break is the most exciting part of the second half, but then, y’know, the vocals come back). The climax of “Citizen Ship” is the best part, with Patti Smith yelling across the water while the music appropriately swells and climaxes (and the chilling part is when she gets answered by faraway vocals that you can’t quite make out).

7. The best song from the second half is the title track, where Patti Smith impersonates an anxious young girl (“Oh I, it’s nothing / I, I, well I’m just clumsy, yeah, no, it’s just a band-aid … I’m always doing something’s always happening to me”; love how her voice changes to deliver that last bit) that doubles for both a romantic tale and a tribute to Pope John Paul I.

8. The truth about Patti Smith that it took me a while to come to terms with (I think Horses is the ten best albums of the 70s) is that she’s got one classic album and enough good songs to fill out a compilation with the rest of her discography (it’s called Land (1975 – 2002)). She’s been riding on the reputation of Horses and her image as the godmother of punk (and arguably, rock music as a whole) and this has let her churn out a bunch of albums that all sound relatively the same as one another but weaker than previous albums, as well as even more books (mostly poetry).

On that note, I’ve never read a single Patti Smith poem … and I don’t really want to. It’s clear that the lyrics are the most important aspect of some of her songs (ie. “Piss Factory”, “Land”), but it’s also clear that a) another important aspect of said songs are her vocal delivery, putting life into characters and putting them in sympathetic situations and b) some of her lyrics are really basic observations or indulgent nothings (a lot of the ones here). But hey: if you know a good Patti Smith poem and wanna send me a rec, be my guest.

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