Patti Smith 's had her own spot on the Olympus of rock for a long time: whether she releases anything or not, her name's there. In fact, for a long time she has been organising her tours based on the places she wants to visit, instead of following any commercial rules or the more or less established circuits. Nobody's surprised if she shows up with a full band at some festival or if she chooses to do some poems in a small venue. This new full-length, “Banga”, is a good reflection of that attitude, which has become her trademark in recent years.
Lately, Smith has been fully submerged in literature (recently, she published “Woolgathering”, a collection of poems based on her childhood), without forgetting about the music: from the collaboration with Kevin Shields on “The Coral Sea”, to cover albums like “Twelve” (Sony, 2007); and also without forgetting about her political activism: she was spotted at Occupy Wall Street, the movement with which she collaborated on various levels, even allowing her music to be included on records supporting the cause. That variety of activities can be heard on “Banga”, an album featuring both the liturgy-like songs of her recent years and the rock outbursts from the years when she was a young artist who refused to pluck her upper lip and smile on the promotional pictures. Part of the 'blame' for that return to her rock vein goes to the involvement of her usual band: Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee Daugherty give songs like “Amerigo”, “Mosaic” and “Fuji-san” (dedicated to the victims of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan in 2011) a sound that transcends the merely anecdotic. In fact, “Fuji-san” and “Banga” can easily stand next to classics like “Summer Cannibals”, proving wrong any stereotype about musical maturity equalling boredom. They're songs on which that side of Patti Smith surfaces that earned her the nickname “godmother of punk”, and on which phrases like “they don't make them like in the good old days anymore” are smashed to smithereens: she hasn't lost any of her power, and her voice suits that spoken word kind of way that she sings much better now.
There's even room on the album for surprises, such as “This Is The Girl” (dedicated to Amy Winehouse), where Smith becomes nostalgic, with a distinct flavour of the classic fifties; or that laidback “Nine”, inspired by actor Johnny Depp. There's a cover version, too, of Neil Young's “After The Gold Rush”. And a special mention for “Constantine’s Dream”, based on Piero della Francesca’s painting inspired by the dream emperor Constantine had before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, and which is directly linked to “Broken Flag”, although it mostly stands out because it seems infused with the spirit of her previous work with Kevin Shields.
“Banga” is, in short, an inspired album, with some decisive moments that show she hasn't lost her touch.