Banga - COLUMBIA
FILTER Grade: 88%
By Kurt Orzeck on June 5, 2012
Patti Smith is one of the (woefully) few contemporary musicians who can conjoin themselves with the heart and soul of America, and translate that relationship into song. What makes Smith even more special is that she does so while maintaining her status as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s consummate iconoclasts. It’s been eight long years since we’ve heard an album of original material from her, but genius cannot—or should not—be rushed; Banga may go down as one of Smith’s strongest albums in her four-decade career.
The 65-year-old Smith sounds fully replenished on her 11th LP, approaching the world with fresh eyes and a youthful vision. Supported by musicians including Television’s Tom Verlaine, longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye, and Smith’s children Jackson and Jesse Paris, she presents lovers rediscovering nature, rusted bikes, rings of fire and “human beats.” The beatnik punk-poet sings, speaks, testifies and scats her way through her new batch of bangers, carrying her characters into new worlds: sometimes they are whimsical, sometimes they are terrifying, but they are always true to the human spirit.
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”). But if Smith is trying to distract with humility, it doesn’t work: Banga finds the artist more robust than ever—ageless, even.