Patti Smith: Gung Ho

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Patti Smith

Album: Gung Ho

Patti Smith treats her profession less as an occupation than as a revival of some long-forgotten class of warrior poet. She may be the only one capable of pulling it off, but she's so good at it that no one else need bother. Now, three albums into an unexpected career renaissance, Smith has released her most direct and, not coincidentally, hardest-rocking album since 1978's Easter. Drawing inspiration from "our sacred documents," the constitution and the Declaration Of Independence, Smith may not seem on the right track at first. But it's clear where she's coming from as soon as she snarls, "When in the course of human events / it becomes necessary to take things in your own... hands." A freewheeling song cycle addressing liberation with a cast of characters that includes Salome, Custer's wife, and Ho Chi Minh, Gung Ho mixes the personal with the political until one becomes indistinguishable from the other, but in a way that invites neither mindless self-involvement nor the burning of portable toilets. The sinuous first single "Glitter In Their Eyes" warns against the powers that be as if speaking of the villain in a Victorian melodrama, but the album reveals Smith's view of a world in need of change as more complex. The album opens with one of several non-specific calls to arms ("One Voice"), but closes with an extended, apocalyptic meditation on the ambiguity of revolution (the Vietnam-themed title track). Though dominated by anthems, more delicate moments such as the elegiac "Grateful," "China Bird," and the faux-traditional "Libbie's Song" give Gung Ho its character and serve as reminders that Smith hasn't abandoned poetry for proselytizing. Twenty-five years after helping spark punk with Horses, it's clear that Smith still believes in rock 'n' roll as a means to transcendence—personal, political, whichever. The antidote, as history repeats itself again, for antiseptic pop and arena-rock excess, Gung Ho makes it clear that Smith is needed as much as ever.

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