time out review of gone again

[by Gail O'Hara in Time Out, (New York) June 19-26, 1996]

The unholy marriage of poetry and rock & roll was generally a bad idea that resulted in everyone from John Cougar to Maggie Estep parading around claiming to be a "rock & roll poet." Patti Smith, however, did it with smarts, dignity and energy, and at 49 has rightfully become a punk feminist literary goddess. She dropped out of the public eye in 1980 to be in love, raise a family and write novels. Gone Again is her first recording since 1988's Dream of Life; it's very much devoted to her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith.

Songs about deceased loved ones tend to be moving, and Patti's songs about Fred burn with passion. She has managed to entwine her woeful words into musical accompaniments that are alternately cathartic, peaceful and appropriately sad. The title is apt: The word 'gone' pops up in nearly every song. The title track and "Summer Cannibals" were both cowritten with Fred, and the latter features the whiny strains of a musical saw, its chorus of "Eat eat eat!" is gratingly effective. "Beneath the Southern Cross," cowritten with Lenny Kaye, is a gorgeous epic that features John Cale, Tom Verlaine and Jeff Buckley on organ, guitar and voice, respectively. Patti's vocals are all clarity here, in the nine-and-a-half-minute "Fireflies," she moans hauntingly over peacefully plangent twinkles, light percussion and a nasal buzz.

"I was feeling sensations in no dictionary," Patti says on "Dead to the World," a near-country tune enhanced by dulcimer and whistles. "My Madrigal," a stunning, cello-soaked ode to Fred, is terribly riveting. In the acoustic folk song "Wing," she seems to be dreaming about not needing anyone: "I was a pawn / Didn't have a move." "Farewell Reel" closes the record on a delicate note; like the rest of the album, it's a tender, personal testament to her marriage.

Copyright © Gail O'Hara 1996

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