Banga is Patti Smith’s 11th studio album in a career spanning nearly four decades, but with Patti it’s always been quality over quantity. That is precisely what Banga is – a quality album that is arguably Smith’s best since her 1975 iconic debut Horses. Banga is an epic journey which begins with the discovery of the New World and ends with a poignant cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” Along the way we encounter all the usual suspects of a classic Smith record: ghosts of artists’ past, dedications and elegies, religious motifs and a mammoth improvised piece.
In her beautifully written and illustrated liner notes, which include insightful commentary about the inspirations behind each song, Smith explains how Banga reflects the travels, concerns and musical evolution of each band member. Often heralded as the “Queen of Punk,” Smith has subtly sprinkled some of her early signature punk angst and sound throughout the record – perhaps Television guitarist Tom Verlaine’s guest appearance is to thank for some of that.
Smith may be 65 years old, but she still sounds as passionate as she did when she sang the opening verse of her radical take on Them’s “Gloria,” 37 years ago. It is that passion, vision and musicianship that makes Banga a standout album. For the die-hard and literary curious fans, there’s a Special Edition CD complete with a 64-page hard cover book of original images, full lyrics & liner notes by the artist plus an exclusive track, “Just Kids,” in honor of Smith’s bestselling book about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. In the digital age, Banga is one of those rare albums you absolutely must purchase in its physical format to fully appreciate the work and dedication of the artist.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer isn’t trying to seek out legions of new fans with Banga, nor should she at this stage of her career. Smith keeps doing what she does best, fusing her thoughts and inspirations to poetry and rock and roll. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s climax piece, the 10-minute improvised epic “Constantine’s Dream.” Like a jazz virtuoso, Smith thrives on lengthy improvised tracks like her previous masterpieces – “Birdland,” “Memento Mori,” and “Radio Baghdad.” On “Constantine’s Dream” she entered the Electric Lady studio (where she recorded her very first LP) without a single word on paper and recited a composite tale of art, religion and history spanning 400 years and ending with a terrible warning that our dear planet’s facing an impending apocalypse. Upon reading her personal liner notes regarding the birth of “Constantine’s Dream,” one can’t help but be amazed how such an expansive narrative began with a simple dream about a weeping Saint Francis and an environmental apocalypse. That’s what Patti does; she fully absorbs everything around her and creates unique musical poetry out of it.
Banga is one of Patti Smith’s strongest albums and could easily be placed in her top three along with Horses and Easter. Smith’s got a few more projects in the works including a follow-up to her award-winning memoir Just Kids and a little album of Appalachian-style songs. We are privileged to still hear new and excellent music from punk’s poet laureate.
Reviewer: Sarah Geledi
IRC: Bill Pulice
You can read more of Sarah Geledi by visiting her webblog at http://goodrockingtonight.wordpress.com/
Powered by Facebook Comments