Patti Smith‘s newest disc, Twelve, is a covers album. Anyone that’s heard Smith’s earlier readings of other folks’ work would probably be understandably excited about a disc full of reinterpretations since this is the woman that absolutely shredded Van Morrison’s “Gloria.” They should probably cool their jets a little, though.
Twelve is an interesting album, and at times an enjoyable listen, but for the most part it’s a failed experiment and a misstep in the same vein as Grant-Lee Phillips’ recent disc of tepidly read ’80s covers. Smith covers a group of songs and, for the most part, merely covers them. In fact the most surprising thing about the whole affair was my own discovery that she actually has a pretty sweet voice when she feels like employing it in the service of a mainstream melody.
In my opinion, this disc is probably just something she tossed off for fun, and her record company probably pounced on it in hopes of milking some sort of financial return out of her recent induction to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Fair enough, since it’s only a disappointing listen if you’re looking for Smith to inject her passion into the tunes. For many it will be enough to hear a legend sing along to some older “standards.” I expect Starbucks should probably sell out of its alloted copies in under a week.
Her cover of the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” does a particularly nice job of proving my point. Smith delivers a solid performance with some wonderfully nuanced vocals, but in the end it doesn’t move me as much as it makes me want to absentmindedly tap my foot along to a familiar oldie. She’s on the road quite a bit between now and her Chicago Lollapalooza stop, though, so maybe the songbook will have collected a few embers and burst into fire by the time she gets here.
Photo by Angelo Cricchi