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Thursday, November 23, 2017 
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Patti Smith
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Trampin'
Columbia
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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 comeback.

Fortunately, Trampin' has her sounding revitalized, her contagious energy striking sparks off her longtime musical collaborators.

Patti Smith's 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 righteous indignation.

"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.


by Tom Ridge




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