As a long time fan of Chicago-born music legend Patti Smith, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Twelve, her newest release. The artist commonly referred to as the poet-laureate of punk, has been in the industry since the 1960s and has continued to set trends and influence the American musical landscape through four decades. Despite her accomplishments, Twelve, her first cover album, falls flat in comparison to her previous work.
I know if I said that to Patti Smith herself I’d probably get spit on or punched. I get the feeling Smith does things on her own terms, to please herself and herself alone. Yes, this is a collection of songs she feels has profundity, yet I can’t help but feel the songs were more profound before she laid her hands on them. If you took the original version of all the tracks she covered on Twelve, you’d have a great mix tape. But Smith’s take on these old and new classics shatters their former vigor with a hammer’s blow of stone-cold monotony.
Take for example Smith’s cover of the Nirvana hit “Smells like Teen Spirit.” As a Nirvana fan, I loved the song as an honest, unabashed study in teenage angst. I couldn’t make out most of Cobain’s lyrics for the life of me, but the feeling I got from the mash of words and music in that song gave it a particular, endearing appeal. Patti Smith sings Cobain’s lyrics with a crisp backwoods twang in her voice and a banjo/fiddle accompaniment. But wait, there’s more! As if she hadn’t bastardized “Smells like Teen Spirit” enough, she decides to go into a completely unrelated poetic rant midway through the song to really fuck it up.
Despite my love for Patti Smith, I just couldn’t wrap my head around this album. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from Patti Smith the cover artist. Seeing her off-kilter song choices on the CD sleeve (she covers a Tears for Fears song, for God’s sake) made me think she was going to put some sort of magical edge into a lot of her chosen tracks. Instead, by the end of the album I was left feeling like I’d been bored to death by some aging hotel lounge singer and her brooding back-ups. But, if you’re into that sort of thing, by all means go out and get a copy.