In 2000 Patti Smith released Gung Ho, her third album
since her mid-'90s re-emergence with Gone Again.
Despite its occasional stridency, it never really
ignited, and it sounded like she was running on
depleted reserves after the initial momentum of her
Fortunately, Trampin' has her sounding
revitalized, her contagious energy striking sparks off
her longtime musical collaborators.
albums tend to follow a similar pattern, tracing a
template that was established on her 1975 debut, Horses, and refined on
successive releases. And it is to Horses her
detractors return when decrying her work, with the
suggestion that she's condemned to repeat herself in
paler shades of her initial artistic triumph. But
central to Smith's work is the idea of rock 'n' roll as
a primitive means of expression, a sparse backdrop
onto which she can project herself, and in doing so
transcend its limitations. The whole point is that
Patti Smith sounds like herself she hasn't embraced
electronica or rap, or deconstructed her music and
she remains a fiery constant, a beacon. Her maturity
is not expressed in a mellowing of her muse she's
not offering comforting familiarity to her listeners
but in an expansion of her viewpoint. The personal has
become more political, and her politicization extends
over centuries, connecting with history and
channeling it into a mixture of compassion and
"Jubilee" is a combination of hoedown and
exhortation, an opening statement reminiscent of "Till
Victory" or "People Have the Power." But beneath its
declamatory surface it feels more like a militant
prayer: "We stand in the midst of fury and weariness"
are words addressed to uncertain times. "Stride of the
Mind" is a passionate sneer, a gritty ode to expanding
consciousness "C'mon move where dreams
increase/ Where every man is a masterpiece." Smith's
take on positivity is bold, simple, even simplistic,
but exhilarating in its fearlessness. There's no
embarrassment here, just the force of her conviction
when she sings the word "cowardice" during "In My
Blakean Year" her voice hisses with contempt.
The ballads that make up half the tracks on Trampin'
find Smith in compassionate voice and offset the
heavier intensity of the hard stuff. "Trespasses" and
"Cash" are particularly soulful "In the white noise
of desire/ We can't hear a single thing" she sings on
the latter, addressing the difficulty in finding some
kind of spiritual solace. It's a softer version of the
preaching expressed elsewhere, more like a plea.
Central to Trampin' are two lengthy reveries, where
Smith's lyricism strains at the music's confines and
the band simmers away in gritty accompaniment.
"Gandhi" builds from hoarse urgency into a delirious
narrative, a savage valediction and a call for action
"Long live revolution/ And the spinning wheel/ Awake!
Awake! Is the mighty appeal." (And in the throes of
her passion she gets away with rhyming "Gandhi" with
"Candy" few others would.)
"Radio Baghdad" begins
with an ominous bubbling of music and intonation
before exploding into a circuitous rock riff and
lyrics that allude to culture, history, myth and
mathematics "We invented the zero/ But we mean
nothing to you." Her voice is a raw expression of
indignation and righteous anger "And you send your
flames/ Your shooting stars" as the guitars jabber
angrily amid a relentless momentum. The music fades
out, then fades in again, louder still, and three
times in succession she bellows, "THEY'RE ROBBIN' THE
CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION." The music grinds to a halt,
shudders. She sings, "Suffer not the paralysis of your
neighbor/ Suffer not but extend your hand" a final
plea an echo, then silence.
"Trampin'" closes the album, weary but hopeful, with
Smith accompanied by her daughter on piano. Her voice sounds smaller, calmer, but still utterly fearless.