Smith cover album does not live up to original releases

M. Rusziewski

Patti Smith, known as one of the best lyricists in punk music for decades, released an album of cover songs on April 24 that is simply entitled “Twelve.” Taking a break out of her schedule of antagonizing the Bush Administration and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the aged songbird honors some of the greatest songwriters of the rock era. Some of the song choices might pleasantly or unpleasantly surprise her fans, though her voice remains as distinct as it has ever been.

The lead-off track is a fantastic interpretation of the Hendrix classic “Are You Experienced?” which takes the trippiness to a whole new level. Though no one could do justice to his guitar-playing or his pure ability to rock out, Smith manages to milk the song for all of its psychadelia. Strangely enough, she follows the Hendrix cover with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a Tears for Fears classic from the 1980s of a completely different mood.

Though a valiant effort, her attempt at The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is not up to part and does not contribute anything new to the song nor the canon. It remains too close to the Stones’ original, and despite her throaty vocals, her voice just does not work because ; the listener finds himself longing for the Stones’ shouting harmonies. She gets an A for effort, but a C for execution, which happens to be a pattern which develops over the course of the CD.

In contrast to the first song, she manages to suck the psychadelia out of the Beatles’ “Within You Without You,” which is no small feat. It is interesting, however, to hear a version without Indian instruments. Producer Emery Dobyns seems to have intentionally gone for a dry recording, and it appears that the goal was to deliberately remove the hypnotic cadence of this George Harrison composition. Nonetheless, it remains a beautiful song, despite the apparent inconsistencies between the lyrics and the music canvas. The differences between versions makes it all the more interesting of an effort, meriting the recording with originality that her “Gimme Shelter” lacked.

She sings “White Rabbit” much better than the original version, with the emotion and intensity that made songs like “Because the Night” enduring as well as endearing. Choosing to cover such music legends as Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Nirvana on the same album is bold, to say the least. History has shown that Americans tend to like original popular songs just fine and view new attempts at time-honored standards with skepticism, rarely taking them seriously. It may be that this album is a mere exercise in vanity as it seems so many cover albums are, but Patti Smith is as good a singer as any to handle the job.

Unfortunately, she overestimates herself and her prestige, taking a stab at the unthinkable and covering “Smells like Teen Spirit.” As all other remakes of this roaring alt-rock anthem have, Smith”s attempt falls far short, a slow yawner sure to be skipped on a second listen, even though it concludes with a vivid free-verse poem about the stresses of today”s youth. Perhaps this is just more evidence of the 60- year- old”s pride, perhaps it is a sincere if self-important expression of her feelings. Either way, her style may ring false with those unfamiliar with her past work. And though she walks on sacred ground and sacred toes for rock fans, Smith has never been one to fear controversy, and her devotees will likely welcome this addition to her catalog with open arms and ears.