First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of the past three years, Patti Smith has been swept up in a whirlwind of recognition: The epic Radio Baghdad from her 2004 endeavor Trampin’ became a white-hot poker of political protest against the Bush administration. The following year, she celebrated the 30th anniversary of her highly influential masterpiece Horses by performing it in its entirety at the conclusion of London’s Meltdown Festival, for which she had served as curator. In 2006, she was the final artist to appear at CBGB, the legendary New York City club that shaped her career, and she used her New Year’s Eve show to resurrect material from her nearly forgotten 1988 endeavor Dream of Life. Most recently, of course, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Considering the paths she has traversed of late, it’s understandable that Smith not only would be in a reflective mood, but that she also would be a little daunted by her recent experiences. Unfortunately, the artistic paralysis that typically stems from a seemingly endless stream of widespread acclaim has carried over onto her latest project Twelve. Composed entirely of cover songs, the set likely would have been viewed by many as a holdover until her next effort was completed. Unfortunately, Smith gives little reason to glimpse it from any other perspective.
The material on Twelve runs the gamut from a seductively heady interpretation of The Doors’ Soul Kitchen to a bluegrass-inflected romp through Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there are as many intriguing choices (Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble, Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise) as there are predictable ones (Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit). As a limp rendition of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter makes clear, however, the problem isn’t Smith’s song selection; it’s the approach that she and her backing band — which includes appearances by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Television’s Tom Verlaine — took to recording the endeavor.
Twelve boasts no central theme, and its organization can be described, at best, as slapdash. Outside the aforementioned Nirvana track — which undeniably is the set’s highlight — Smith’s maneuvers are far from bold. Instead, she plays tunes like Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Bob Dylan’s Changing of the Guards, and Neil Young’s Helpless so straight that one is left wondering why she bothered to tackle them in the first place. None of these factors individually are enough to sink the outing, but when combined with the utter emotional detachment of her delivery, everything falls apart. Twelve feels as if it was born out of obligation rather than inspiration, and as a result, it is neither the tribute to her inspirations nor the extension of her legacy that she likely intended it to be. ½
Twelve is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box