In trying to work out the psychology of the varied collection of covers that fill the expanse of Twelve, Patti Smith’s latest set of recordings, it would serve one to relate these tunes to Patti Smith’s own past selection of cover tunes. Up ‘til now, all of her cover selections contained a powerhouse of energy that gave new life to an older song, surely making them memorable. On Horses, her debut release that caught the world by surprise and is now considered an important seminal work, she reworked “Gloria” (Van Morrison), whipping it into a frothy piece that is as much hers as it was Morrison’s. As the Shadows of Knight provided a psychedelic shade to the song, Patti Smith filled it with anger to make it a song of her era as much as it belonged to the 60s.
On her Easter album, she breathed life into “Because the Night,” a Bruce Springsteen collaboration providing her with her first high-charting single. Further on, in her seemingly final album (Wave) before “retiring,” she covered the Byrds’ “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star.” Return recordings of covers include a version of Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” from her angry Gone Again album. Peace and Noise provided “Spell” from Ginsberg. All of those songs were carefully chosen and wondrously interpreted.
With Twelve, she returns after her brilliant and original Trampin’ (2004), with a complete collection of cover songs that vary in style from country-rock (“Midnight Rambler”), to hard rock (“Gimme Shelter”), to pop (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). Thematically, the current seems to be songs that fit within her already well defined sense of philosophy. All this is to say that you’re unlikely to hear Patti cover “Two Tickets to Paradise” or “Paper Roses.” Instead you’ll hear songs with something to say or songs that address a philosophy and/or a time period.
On Twelve, she covers songs from Jimi Hendrix Experience (“Are You Experienced?”), Neil Young (“Helpless”), and does an honest job of all of them. Of the songs that fit the Smith persona well, her version of “Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones’ anti-war song) elicits the most energy. It’s great to hear Patti get into this song. Following that perspective, “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane) is a perfect interpretation here. Its perfection would have made it an easy candidate for any of her forthcoming original albums had it not been included here.
Twelve is less than what we would have wanted from our favourite poet at this time. But perhaps it was a sense that so few non-Smith songs can fit the power and/or theme of any one of her albums, past and future, it would be best to purge the need to do these classic songs in one swoop rather than try to craft albums around them, which is what would have to happen. As a result, Twelve becomes a much more personal album as it reveals to us songs that are important to Patti Smith.
Patti Smith fans will, no doubt, find songs within the Twelve set that please them. With the original music and thoughts that we have been given by Patti Smith, this is an indulgence that we can all get into, even if every song doesn’t please all of us.
Congratulations to Patti Smith for her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her acceptance speech was a genuine one evident to everyone in attendance and watching via VH1. As in her speech, I dedicate this review to everyone that is important to Patti. That includes her fans as she has held nothing back. And Patti, we’ve always appreciated that.