The first impulse upon listening to Patti Smith’s new album, Twelve, is to wonder why she’s releasing this particular album at this point in her career. For an artist that has occasionally graced audiences with searing covers of other artist’s material, the idea that only now has Smith decided to devote an entire album to such endeavors, can certainly be excused as the reason for some serious consternation. Instead of any kind of proper answer or response, however, it simply is as it is.
Twelve is what Patti Smith wanted to do, so she did it.
Being aware only of a few key songs and moments in the span of her entire body of work, I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that my own reaction to Twelve, was “Oh, cool! I wonder how she sounds singing this song.” Or, “can she squeeze any more heartache into this song than Neil?”
Staring at the track-listing, it soon became a chore deciding which song I wanted to listen to first. Do I want to hear Patti singing Neil Young’s “Helpless,” which is one of my all-time favorite songs? How about hearing her run through “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones? I know! Let’s hear her singing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” instead. I chose “Gimme Shelter.”
After just a few moments listening to “Gimme Shelter” my head started nodding up and down and I just felt like I was witness to something raw and alive, coming from my stereo. Considering the age of both the song and of the artist singing, it kind of startled me. If Patti Smith still sounded this good, why the hell didn’t I know about it?
For some reason I just had an idea of her being a kind of recluse that only came out to play an occasional show. Shows how much I know about things, I guess.
In some bizarre way, I think, that is what Smith might hope to accomplish with this record. Everything contained in it, from the militant insistence of her voice intertwining with the percussion on “Are You Experienced?,” the plaintive surrender of “Helpless,” the feral seduction of “Gimme Shelter,” the buoyant staccato of “The Boy In The Bubble,” the eerie gloom of the banjo playing on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” to the seductive harmonies on “Pastime Paradise,” all are musical apostles, if you will excuse the lame comparison, bringing notice to the fact that Patti Smith is where she’s always been.
She’s standing there, right in front of a microphone, singing to us and revealing herself through her music and words, just like she has always been doing. I’m sure she was flattered when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently, but I’d be willing to bet that she felt more joy and accomplishment singing these songs than she did being singled out for doing something she has no choice in doing.
She has to sing — she has to be Patti Smith. All you and I have to do is sit back and listen, whether to one of her classic albums, or to Twelve, a damned fine album in its own right.
01. Are You Experienced?
02. Everybody Wants To Rule The World?
04. Gimme Shelter
05. Within You Without You
06. White Rabbit
07. Changing Of The Guard
08. The Boy In The Bubble
09. Soul Kitchen
10. Smells Like Teen Spirit
11. Midnight Rider
12. Pastime Paradise