Since Patti Smith saved rock ‘n’ roll with Horses, it would seem that she has simply never ceased creating. Whether that be painting, poetry, prose or more pointed rock ‘n’ roll, she has lived by her own motto: “In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.”
And alongside that moto, her constant act of creation has also stayed true to the central tenet of Horses which first heralded it. “To me,” she once said, “punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.” With that in mind, she might have stayed true to punk, but she has never let it tether her sound down to limited genre tropes.
All her albums have evolved, but they also all remain entirely singular, tied together by her own unfurling flurry of rhythm-driven poetry. Thus, when she was asked by the comically named account ‘poopoo’ in a Guardian fan Q&A her answer was indicative of her liberated view on the creative freedom that being sincerely individual provides.
“I return to Horses endlessly,” poopoo wrote, “because of its lethal combination of drama, poetry, danger, love, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. What’s your favourite of your albums?” Naturally, she was bound to avoid the mainstream answer of Horses, but she thankfully didn’t go the contrarian route of Bob Dylan when he wildly stated that Shot of Love is the best album he has produced.
“I like the longer improvised pieces such as Radio Baghdad, Memento Mori or Radio Ethiopia,” Smith began, rattling off a slew of classics, before picking out a modern masterpiece. “But as a whole album, I like the last one, Banga. ‘Constantine’s Dream’, the long-improvised piece at the end, touched a lot of things that concern me—art, the future of mankind, climate change, the horrors done to our indigenous people, and love.
Adding: “I love the cover, which was shot on the fly by my friend Stephen Sebring. That record feels like me, like Horses feels like me.” Indeed, that sense of unspooling individualism is readily apparent on the swirling record. It flows like a mellowed out ‘Birdland’ that has grown more wistful and mystic with all the years of wisdom.
With songs like ‘Nine’ written in tribute to Johnny Depp about whom Smith once poignantly said, “We just really hit it off. I lost my brother and really mourned him and it felt like he sent Johnny Depp to be my new brother,” the record feels deeply personal, but like many great works that somehow, almost paradoxically, makes it seem more inclusive.
Inspired by Smith’s “unique dreams and observations,” her 11th studio album proved that she was still following her bolted muses, and her sense of cathartic creative freedom was as unbridled as ever… still, not quite as good as Horses.