As 2012 blends into 2013, it can easily be realized that many artists released records in the span of the year, some of whom have not had output for a good while. Patti Smith’s Banga is the standout record of the year. Patti Smith is the pinnacle artist with an extraordinary voice, true poetry, a magical way of describing anything, and the Janis Joplin-type of ability to channel a song live.
Listening to a Patti Smith record is like going on a grand journey, not knowing where the next corner/song will take you. Indeed, Banga does not disappoint in this regard. In the day of every song sounding the same on a record, Patti Smith reached the ultimate achievement of each song on Banga having its own personality, as if 12 different aural paintings were delivered.
As a child Patti Smith had a vivid imagination and created her own adventures. This gift and adventure theme are sustained in the record, beginning with the opening overture “Amerigo” in which she wonders what it must have been like to be sailing on a ship, setting off to discover new lands. The driving rhythms punctuate the voyage divinely. Patti Smith wrote the sweet, acoustical with strings lullaby “Seneca” for her godson, calling it “a prelude to adventure”. In the trance-inducing “Constantine’s Dream”, a 10 minute drama plays out with again the same theme of discovering the New World. Patti Smith could have book ended the record with this track, having similar metaphorical lyrics of self-discovery as the opening of the record, but she marches to her own drum as all prolific artists do. Instead, she chose to leave it on a thought provoking note with a children’s chorus accompanying her singing “Look at Mother Nature on the run…” in various and current time periods.
The songs on Banga are like individual treasures. The single “April Fool” is certainly one of those songs which plays in the head post-listen or which one finds inadvertently being sung aloud. “Mosaic” is a lively, upbeat song with mandolin flavoring, lyrically inspired by The Hunger Games film. A birthday gift to friend Johnny Depp was the impetus for “Nine”. Depp played guitar on the “Banga” studio title track as well as live at the band’s Los Angeles concert. Patti Smith’s vocals on the fast tempo rock “Fuji-san” and “Banga” are simply wowing. Additionally, there are ear appeasing bass fills on the same cuts. “Fuji-san” is an ode and prayer for the Japanese people. Having the theme of human connectedness which can never be heard enough, “Banga” has become an anthem, and houses the album decree “Believe or Explode”.
Patti Smith eulogizes two songs on Banga. The 50’s style shuffle “This Is The Girl” was written for Amy Winehouse and has a brilliant flip of the syllables of her last name to denote the alcohol addiction, “the smothering vine”. Mysteriousness abounds in the song “Maria” of Patti Smith’s deceased Italian actress friend, with the curiosity lingering of the nature of their relationship.
There is nothing better in the world than hearing Patti Smith recite poetry over her band’s music. In Banga, there are several songs with passages of her poetic utterances and two songs which are dominated by this form, including “Tarkovsky”, a nod to the Russian filmmaker. A clever depiction of Jupiter from this poem/song is “the fifth planet with its blistering sore”. Only Patti Smith can see some things in a particular way.
The production and arrangements on Banga are solid, including occasional strings, and Smith’s band members craft their keyboards and guitars ideally to suit the vibe of each song. Some tracks such as “Constantine’s Dream” are worth listening to for the guitar work alone, courtesy of long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye.
Patti Smith has released the outstanding record in Banga. On a final ironic note, it is strange that Patti Smith, such an artist in every sense of the word is so inspired and tuned in to other artists as witnessed in this latest project. But there are no doubt the personal references evident as well as the Patti Smith filtering of all material which gives depth. If deserted on an island with choice possessions, Banga is of the highest caliber of must have.