Patti Smith – [Album]

Monday, 29 August 2011

It's instantly attention-grabbing and captivating when a musician takes a different approach to an established paradigm and that's exactly what Patti Smith has done with Outside Society. Historically, the rules and/or commonly held values for best-of compilations are sinple:

  • Establish the artist's importance with the string of blockbuster hits they've had over the years.
  • Throw in a few “artist favorites” to let the auteur have their say in the structure of the release.
  • Most recently, remaster the songs included and give them a more vibrant, modestly updated sound which takes advantage of the newest technology available.

Lots of bands follow these rules to the best of their ability and release desert-only offerings which let passing fans have a superficial sampling of their work. That might be fine for other artists, but not Patti Smith – who did have a hand in the creation of this compilation; not every hit and/or landmark moment in the singer's catalogue appears on Outside Society (the first glaring omission is “Piss Factory,” which is widely regarded as “the first punk rock song” released in 1974), but there is a flow to it and an ulterior purpose. Outside Society isn't an instant-gratification best-of, it's an album of great moments that Smith has shared previously with her audience which combine to present the portrait of an artist.

While Outside Society doesn't start where anyone would expect (that would be “Piss Factory,” which isn't here), it does start strongly with the cover of “Gloria” which opened her landmark debut LP, Horses, and then reaches to find the other emotional pole of Smith's emotional spectrum with the introspective (and cynical) “Free Money” to follow up. From there, Outside Society gets confrontational and stands strong with “Ain't It Strange” from Radio Ethiopia where the singer melts down and blurs the lines between anger and the typically upbeat and spiritual nature of reggae and develops what would eventually become the standard Smith practice of expressing trauma with the dry-eyed swagger of a scathed survivor with “Pissing In A River.” Each of these confrontational songs could inspire a dissertation on the nature of emotional outpouring from within the confines of pop song structure but, here, they're simply presented as a set of tiles for the mosaic which articulates the image of Patti Smith. Each is deep in meaning, but each is presented as the smallest piece of a larger puzzle.

As Outside Society continues, more emotional states and voices are presented to further fill out that puzzle with hope and ecstatic rage put into the mix by “Because The Night” and “Rock N Roll Nigger” and then, later, frustration (with “So You Want To Be A Rock N' Roll Star”), serene resolution (“Beneath The Southern Cross”) and disgust (“Summer Cannibals”). In each case, Patti Smith embodies these elements and feels them so much that they are a part of her; part of her voice.

Finally, as the album's run-time winds down with the orchestral grandeur in “Trampin',” the final piece falls in and listeners are left with a portrait of who Patti Smith has been through music. Over a thirty-seven-year course, Patti Smith has been a punk, a poetess and an artist of both language and music. She's been angry, she's been vulgar, she's been dangerous, she's been hurt. She's been in love and she has lost, she has been brutalized but she has survived and she stands tall above it all. Patti Smith has been and done all of these things and done them all Outside Society – the title of her photo album which tells the story perfectly without bowing to convention.

Does the average best-of convey all these things? Certainly not – but Outside Society isn't the average best-of.



Outside Society
comes out on August 30, 2011 via Arista/Columbia/Legacy Recordings. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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