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Twelve by Patti Smith (Columbia)

Fresh from being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Patti Smith would seem to have completed the trajectory from high priestess of punk to elder stateswoman of rock. So it is fitting that her new album is a collection of cover versions, in which she pays tribute to her formative influences. In truth, like David Bowie, Smith has always been one of rock’s great ‘fans’, a star-struck kid who successfully managed the leap over the crash barrier from mosh pit to stage. In completing this process, she is already no stranger to covers, her first single a take – in the assumed voice of Patty Hearst – on Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’, while debut album Horses featured fractured transformations of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ and Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’. The Who’s ‘My Generation’ has long been a live standby, and she had a go at Dylan’s ‘The Wicked Messenger’ on Gone Again.




So it is entirely predictable that homage is here paid to Hendrix, Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones and Neil Young. Smith never really bought into the initial ‘year zero’ philosophy of The Clash, prevalent in her punk heyday. Though some of the readings appear over-reverential, to the point of being anodyne, ‘Gimme Shelter’ smokes, and the choice of less than obvious inclusions from the oeuvre of major artists – George Harrison’s ‘Within You, Without You’ (‘the forgotten song of Sgt. Pepper’s’, according to the sleeve notes) and Dylan’s ‘Changing of the Guard’ from Street Legal, for personal reasons – are interestingly revealing.

Odder is the presence of Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, apparently selected because Smith does not consider a facility for succinct soundbyte titles to be one of her gifts. But the standout is the front porch, roots version of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, bringing out Kobain’s debt to Leadbelly, and featuring one of Smith’s extended poetic interludes.

Cherish this record, made by the fan’s fan.

First published in Magill, June 2007













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