Review: Patti Smith – Banga
Published on June 22nd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
“Hey, wake up!” Huzzer…whuh? “Where are you going? / And are you going anywhere?” Not really, Patti Smith’s eleventh studio album Banga – we were just listening to the contemplative piano ‘n’ strings march of your opening track “Amerigo” and found ourselves getting lulled in by your spoken word verses, seemingly about the erstwhile occupation of a certain indigenous people. Taken with this urgent, stirring music – featuring a Beatles-y psych-cello breakdown, no less – we thought we’d just stick around and see what else you have to offer.
The Gogol-inspired “April Fool” is light of touch – relatively muted, in fact – but with a great loping bass line that swings up an octave in a subtle but sweet way, while “Fuji-San” leads vast-sounding open-air folk chanting into a driving, mature rocker with a familiar sounding chorus – an ode to the titular mountain, it is suitably climactic of dynamic but in a subtle, psych-y way rather than a rock and roll monster way. So, er, well done for that.
“This is the Girl”, which we gather is about Amy Winehouse, drapes a breezy major-minor-minor-and-back-again chord sequence over gently trotting triplets, with Smith’s earthy vocal intoning “This is the girl who yearned to be heard / So much for cradling the smouldering bird”. She introduces some lush harmonies on the titular refrain and then says on one of Banga‘s many spoken word sections: “This is the girl through whom all tears fall / This is the girl who is having a ball / This is the laurel to crown her head / This is the wine of the house, it is said”. It all sounds soft and approachable but the velvet glove conceals a clenched fist in the form of a poignant, moving memorial to a tragic talent.
We like it, Patti Smith’s eleventh studio album Banga. It’s pretty heartbreaking, but we like it.
Your title track is fantastic. An all-too-brief rush of monstrous discorant folk-rock awesomeness, this kind of thing would have even Polly Harvey soiling herself for whatever reason we haven’t quite decided yet, even to the extent of whether we mean it figuratively or literally lyrics, and commend you on the spirited, lightly psychedelic swagger of your verse. Cracking use of ukulele, and whatever you’re talking about when you say “I hunger for the cooling flame / I hunger for the infinite game”, we believe you.
It’s weird, “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop is Jupiter)” sounds like jazzy insouciance at first but maintains such an intensity as to imbue the spoken vocal with consummate ominousness – “the sea is a morgue”, indeed – and “Nine” has more mystical, open-plain majesty than you’d usually expect from a birthday song, in this case for Smith’s pal Johnny Depp.
The downcast, disturbed ambience of “Seneca” does not weary – in fact, its violin and accordion decorations lend it a poignancy that leads well into the “ten-minute-plus improvisational meditation” of “Constantine’s Dream”, which is amazing and also quite mad, an almost detached-sounding Smith narrating “Columbus set foot on the new world and witnessed beauty unspoiled…” over more minor-key gloominess, well-placed in this instance.
Nice touch ending with a cover of “After the Goldrush” – in a lower register than Neil Young’s original vocal, of course – and bringing in the children towards the end to join in with the updated refrain of “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century” – children join in at end (singing that line)
Send our regards to Patti, Banga. She’s done a fine job raising you.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Banga is out now on Columbia Records. For more information, please visit www.pattismith.net