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Patti Smith’s Banga: A Renewal

June 29, 2012

Patti Smith’s new album Banga is her best work since the nineties. Nothing can bring back the magic of Horses(1975), but this comes close.

Some of the songs are almost easy-listening: “Amerigo” is a beautiful song about the exploits of the navigator who gave his name to America, “April Fool” could be mistaken for a pop song, while “This is the Girl” and “Maria” are tender elegies for Amy Winehouse and Maria Schneider. “Seneca” is a lullaby for Smith’s godchild, and “Nine” a birthday gift for her friend Johnny Depp.

The raw energy of the punk poet blasts out on other songs, such as the title track – see the video below. “Banga” comes from Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and is the name of Pontius Pilate’s dog, who faithfully sat with him as he waited for 2000 years outside the gates of heaven waiting to speak to Jesus.

Piero della Francesca: The Dream of Constantine

On their own, Smith’s lyrics may not seem much, but the power of these songs comes from the melding of the lyrics with the unique quality of her voice and the way she uses it as an instrument, sending shivers down our spine that are reminiscent of those we got from the seventies Patti Smith. This is especially so for the magnificent ten minute poem “Constantine’s Dream”: St Francis, Constantine the Great, the painter Piero della Francesca and Christopher Columbus showing the high purpose of art, religion and exploration ending in conquest and destruction.

After eleven of her own new songs, she returns to sweetness and concludes the album with a cover – an updated version of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”, with children symbolically taking over the song for the final refrain: “Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century.”

Banga is a renewal, regenerating the excitement of hearing Patti Smith for the first time.

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