Gone Again

Patti Smith

Arista Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/10/1997

Give Patti Smith's album Gone Again the critic proof award of 1996. Although this album was still wrapped in cellophane, I knew I had to respect how the album came about. For critics who thrive on sympathy, Smith lost her husband and her brother in the same year. For other critics, it's a new album from the high priestess of punk. How could you dis an artist who fluidly brought beat poetry, punk and raw feminism into two classic albums, Horses and Easter?

When all is said and done though, the content of the album is what will endure. And luckily for us, Patti Smith does have something to say with Gone Again. The album is a quiet, burning eulogy to her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, but it never sinks into self-pity.

The album kicks off with one of the last collaborations Smith did with her husband, "Gone Again." It's one of the two hard rockers on the album. Smith wisely doesn't try to recapture her wild, unrestrained fury of "Rock And Roll Nigger"; instead she comes off as a scarred warrior. "I have a winter's tale/how vagrant hearts relent prevail", that line lays the theme of the entire album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Beneath The Southern Cross" is more like the tempo of the rest of the album. With the help of her old band member, Lenny Kaye, "Southern Cross" is a beautiful acoustic piece. The music background is miminal and organic part due to producer Malcolm Burn, who produced Midnight Oil's hugely overlooked gem Breathe last year. While the music takes a back seat, Smith lets her lyrical poetry loose. No one I know could say "equatorial bliss" as gorgeous as Smith can.

Fred Smith is not the only artist that Smith mourns over in Gone Again. In "About A Boy", Smith pays tribute to Kurt Cobain. I thought this song would sink the album. Clocking in at close to nine minutes, and after a flood of Cobain tribute songs by other bands, I thought that this would just become another "tribute song". The distorted, airy feedback of the guitars and Smith's growls made the song seem a lot shorter than I thought. It also contains one of Gone Again's great moments, just as the song ends, there's a brief pause, and you can hear Smith take in a breath and sigh softly. The effect is devestating.

Unfortunately, a couple of songs on Gone Again don't showcase Patti Smith's talents as well as they should. "My Madrigal" is a nice, but somewhat forgetful ode to her husband. For as strong as a writer as Smith is, the chorus "Oh..'til death do us part" is weak. In "Farewell Reel", Smith actually does the poet cardinal sin of rhyming "died" with "cried".

For the occasional lyrical slip up, Smith more than redeems herself with a back to back display of nearly flawless beauty with "Wing" and "Ravens". In "Ravens", a mandolin plays softly while Smith sounds like an artist with a renewed purpose. While Courtney Love may be the crowned princess of punk for the moment, Smith is content as an elder stateswoman. Elder as in experience though, not nostalgia. In her cover of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger", Smith turns the song into something that is all her own - sounding fresh and alive.

Gone Again, for me, had to wait a year before I wrote a review. It's easy to get caught up in the drama of an artist making a return after a long absence. It's even more distorting when you look at what Smith has gone through and accomplished. But take all of that away, and you've got a geniunely good album that seems to be a great bookend to Horses. Gone Again could have coasted on sympathy, but Smith sees her loss as a change as natural as birth. "Death to the world/alive I awoke", she sings in "Dead To The World". Let's hope Smith's next muse won't be as traumatic of an experience for her.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.