Patti Smith – Twelve

  • Bobby Gorman posted
  • Reviews

Patti Smith

Twelve - Columbia Records

This record dates me, there’s no other way to say that. But it dates me in the opposite sense of the term, instead of Twelve showing how old I am – Patti Smith‘s newest offering just proves how young I am and how little knowledge I have of music history.

You see, I’m only 19 and there’s a lot that happened in the music industry before I became remotely interested in it. However, I’m rather interested in the history of punk and how it evolved and came along – its something I’ve been doing a lot of research on it lately. Patti Smith is one of the performers who sparked a slight interest in me as of late. While Smith is a name I’ve heard tossed around for years, I only really became apparent of her with her recent induction to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. A few weeks later I got to her section in my punk history book I’m reading (Mojo‘s Punk: The Whole Story – a great book to read if you can find it) and her story intrigued me. A few days later I had Twelve in my hands; and to be honest, it was the very first time I have ever heard a single song by Patti Smith.

Oddly though, that’s not what dated me. Far from it. It was the selection of songs that she covered that dated me and made me feel so incredibly young. Out of the twelve tracks, I’ve only heard the original version of three of them and two of the tracks I know more because of cover songs instead of the original versions.

She kicks off the album with a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s Are You Experienced? A track I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard before, so it wasn’t until the third track that I realized that Twelve was in fact a cover album. It was the famous chorus of Neil Young‘s Helpless that caught my ear and Helpless is one of the few songs I actually know. Of course I know Smells Like Teen Spirit too, but the only other track I know is Paul Simon‘s The Boy In The Bubble; sadly, I’m once again ashamed to say I know that song better because thanks to the Snowdogs cover version. I also recognized Stevie Wonder‘s Pastime Paradise, but that was simply because of the Weird Al spoof.

Despite all of that, I still enjoyed Twelve and it made me see two things. A) Patti Smith is a talented musician and its clear why she is so well known today and B) there’s probably a reason she picked these songs.

While the vocals were a surprise to me at first, I soon grew accustomed to her eerie vocal delivery, something which is unlike any other around. They are unique and diverse, able to interpret the various songs perfectly and she can easily change her tone of voice and speed to suit the needed track. They can be hectic, like the in slightly chaotic rendition of The Rolling Stones‘ Gimme Shelter or more melodic like on Bob Dylan‘s Changing Of The Guard or even carry a country twang like in the aforementioned Boy In The Bubble.

However, the track that really stands out above it all is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. No matter how I envisioned this track, I would never have pictured it the way Smith did. She successfully transformed the spastic teenage anthem to a controlled, mellow, gothic folk song topped off with a banjo – all without losing any of the song’s original power. On top of that, the song also sees Smith enter into one of her signature rants which I had read so much about and was very glad to hear for the first time.

All in all, I like this album. It’s good, I can appreciate it and will return to it from time to time. But I’m the wrong person to accurately review it. I’m too young and too unknowledgeable about it all. This album will be so much more meaningful to someone who has followed Smith throughout her career and who has a connection to the songs she has covered; sadly, that’s not me.