ALBUM REVIEW: Patti Smith – Outside Society

patti smith outside society


Written for DIY

She’s had a career that has spanned forty years of cultural history, taking in poetry, art, film, books and ten full-length albums, collaborations with some of those decades’ greatest artists, and much more. So… where to start with Patti Smith, veteran singer, songwriter, much-vaunted “Godmother of Punk”? Well, right here would probably be a good place, ta for asking.

Leap-frogging off the back of last year’s best-selling, award-winning, general-plaudit-bothering memoir Just Kids, this greatest hits collection of Smith material covers her start on the seventies New York art scene, through recordings that run a gamut of genres including (but not limited to) classic rock, Dylan-tinged protest songs, punk, piano-led ballads, (sometimes ill-advised) experiments in reggae and good ole’ Southern country. Whatever genre she’s working in, it’s Smith’s idiosyncratic words and voice that stand out.

Sensibly, a fair amount of the eighteen tracks here (hand-picked by the singer herself) are taken from her most-known, LP, 1975’s Horses, including God-botherer-bothering Van Morrison cover “Gloria” that bravely opened both that album and now this one. If you want a place to start with Smith other than this, it’d be with Horses.

The bbvious stand-out on this album is her most well-known — and for bloody good reason — track, romantic epic “Because The Night”, which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen. Perhaps less obvious a highlight is her version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, from 2007’s Twelve, which reduces that howl of gobbledegook adolescent cynicism into a slow, contemplative folk number — there’s banjos and fiddles and everything! — proving Smith is just as adventurous and versatile in her cover versions as in her own compositions.

Without sounding too patronising (to a person some years our senior), it is credit Patti Smith’s fierce individuality and just plain ferocious talent that amongst a crowded and star-studded rogue’s gallery of collaborators — including the aforementioned Boss and Television’s Tom Verlaine — she not only stands out, she makes sure the show is firmly in her grasp.

Despite not being a household name (unless your Dad works for Rolling Stone or something), Smith’s influence and importance in both musical and socio-political history cannot be underestimated. This is a well-put-together, comprehensive beginner’s guide that proves she is just as important today.



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