Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Cover to Cover
Covers albums are strange mutant beasts, chock full of miscalculations, pumped up with hubris, accented by hedonistic celebrations of simpler pasts, and, here and there, pick ‘em-choose ‘em, true moments of recorded rock and roll exhilaration—formed from the alchemy produced by the brief occurrence of conception matching up head-to-head with inspiration. (Ya know,the ol' action equaling thought.) Confession. I own (and dig) a batch of these shaggy dogs, a trend which began when I fell head over heels for then rising superstar David Bowie’s Pin-Ups, released in 1973 as a (at the time) hugely perplexing follow-up to the back-to-back smashes Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. My disparate check list includes the following: Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things (’73), The Ramones’ Acid-Eaters (’93), Guns and Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident (’93), Duran Duran’s Thank You (’95), Metallica’s Garage, Inc. (’98), Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades (’00), Cat Powers’ The Covers Record (’00), Tori Amos’ Strange Little Girls (’01), Def Leppard’s Yeah! (’06), and Matthew Sweet and Susana Hoff’s Under the Covers, Vol. 1 (’06).
Rock ‘n roll goddess and recent Hall of Fame inductee Patti Smith joined this weird and wooly club and burrowed far under the covers with her new release, Twelve. Unlike most of the aforementioned collections, Smith’s is surprisingly guileless, and, probably to the disappointments of many long time fans, a record that studiously avoids the titillations of punk. (In other word, don’t go searching for another “Gloria:In Excelsis Deo.”) Instead, Twelve is filled with contemplative, scaled-down, often disorientating covers (a bluegrassy “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, an incantatory “Are You Experienced”, a dirge like “Midnight Rider”), subdued, respectful, largely straightforward readings (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”, “Pastime Paradise”), and covers that emphasize the resifting of political and sociological signifiers rather than overt musical transformations. (“White Rabbit”, “Within You Without You”, “Changing of the Guards”). It seems that Smith is intent on exploring her spiritual proclivities rather than her usual Dionysian ones, although a few cuts rock with focused passion (“Gimmie Shelter”, “Soul Kitchen”) and two actually manage to acutely transform the originals (“Helpless”, “ Everybody Wants To Rule the World”). All in all, a smart album, albeit a highly meditative one, and another nifty entry in the covers album sweepstakes.