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  • Horses
  • Radio Ethiopia
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    Patti Smith

    horses easter radio ethiopia

    Horses 8 ( 1975 )
    Gloria / Redondo Beach / Birdland / Free Money / Kimberly / Break It Up / Land / Elegie

    Released in 1975 'Horses' came out during what's commonly regarded as one of the worst years for popular music ever. Progressive rock and glam had finished, or were about to, and punk was still moving around the swamp waiting for a dream. Patti Smith on the one hand then is still firmly old fashion, pre-punk. She sings a Van Morrison song, she does a Dylan poet/prophet messiah pose, sings ten minute long songs - yet she took some very wise decisions, none more so than choosing The Velvet Underground's John Cale to produce. He allows Patti Smith and her band to reproduce their live set, no more no less, yet pushes them further than a mere straight run-through. Anything that sounds wayward live sounds tight and planned here, such as the distorted, tuneless guitar trills throughout 'Birdland'. Was it new and daring? Well, she had the front to do this although musically we're no further forward than the Velvet Underground debut. That's not a critiscm by the way, just a word about how far ahead of time the VU debut was in the first place. Patti was influential for almost just turning up and doing this, by turning up and being strong. A forerunner to PJ Harvey and the rest, the story goes.

    'Redondo Beach' doesn't get a lot of praise these days, but this fun reggae rhythm complete with pop melodies adds needed lightness to what can often be an impressively dense and uneasy listen. 'Gloria' is 'Gloria' even here in special expanded Patti Smith format. 'Free Money' is the nearest we get to actual punk rock. In reality of course, 'Horses' isn't a punk album at all, it's art-rock. 'Punk' didn't really exist in 1975 and if you get 'Horses' expecting Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Clash, you'll be severely disappointed.

    'Land/Horses' could sound completely different gig to gig and last anywhere from eight to twenty eight minutes. Here, it's nine and a half minutes and the key moment where the album really states a case for being worthy of your attention. It does everything the rest of the album does but better and in the one song. It's her manifesto, if you like. After such an epic, the brief 'Elegie' seems somewhat superflous yet I suppose we needed winding down. It's dark, and i'd have preferred something lighter, yet nothing is perfect in this world really, is it?

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    Radio Ethiopia 7 ( 1976 )
    Ask the Angels / Ain't It Strange / Poppies / Pissing in a River / Pumping (My Heart) / Distant Fingers / Radio Ethiopia / Abyssinia

    Patti turns away from John Cale to employ a hard rock producer, perhaps in order to beef up her sound? The title track, 'Poppies' and 'Aint It Strange' appear to head in the same poetic rambling territory as 'Horses' did yet without the Cale atmospherics. Elsewhere, the opening cut is less an actual song as an excuse to be energetic and danceable. For such an intention and to lead into the far more impressive 'Ain't It Strange', it works well enough. As for 'Ain't It Strange', really it's just a dirge but it's a fascinatingly enjoyable dirge with some suitably unhinged moments vocally from Patti. By the time we reach 'Poppies' though the Patti Smith Group have turned into The Doors, no more, no less - so much for the future. 'Poppies' tries the patience arriving after 'Ain't It Strange' and it becomes apparent that 'Radio Ethiopia' lacks the pacing of 'Horses'. Why not swap around 'Poppies' and the powerhouse performance that is 'Pssing In A River', for example? Works for me. Am I being particularly nit-picky? Probably.

    'Distant Fingers' is a highlight and a song Patti sings softer in some places and harder than others, one of her best vocals on the album, an album where in some other places she seems to aware of what people liked about 'Horses' and tries too hard to replicate it. Well, 'Pumping My Heart' is pure throwaway standard rock although the title track here benefits from the Patti Smith Band's new rock producer. On the surface, even its place in the tracklisting would suggest such a thing, this is another 'Land/Horses'. Yet, opening with dirty, aggressive riffs? Different enough for me. As the track develops, it's clear this is very much a free-form piece yet with pounding drums and throbbing bass, it provides a spark of excitement exactly when the album needed such a spark.

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    Easter 8 ( 1978 )
    Till Victory / Space Monkey / Because the Night / Ghost Dance / Babelogue / Rock N Roll Nigger / Privilege (Set Me Free) / We Three / 25th Floor / High on Rebellion / Easter

    Patti Smith came back from a year-and-a-half break after falling from a stage. Easter was produced by Bruce Springsteen associate Jimmy Iovine and 'Because The Night', co-written with Springsteen, became Patti Smith's commercial breakthrough charting on both sides of the Atlantic. Overall 'Easter' has a sound that's not a million miles away from the sound of then contemporary Blondie albums. Such a comparison may have you spilling and coughing out your coffee in disbelief, but it makes sense to me and anyway, didn't both artists start out at CBGB's in New York? So yes, Patti Smith had moved on and it seems to me 'Easter' must have been a deliberate ploy to edge towards the mainstream without losing the rough edge of the vocals or the lyrics. 'Well, 'Space Monkey' seems fairly trite upon first listens and the rock edge to the music far outweighing any claims critics had at the time of aligning Smith to the punk scene. 'Space Monkey' is fun then, the opening 'Till Victory' certainly coloured by the American punk scene and then of course we get 'Because The Night', co-written by Springsteen and you can easily tell. After three songs marking a relatively straightforward opening sequence for 'Easter' then, we get the strangeness and the controversial. The strangeness we cover with 'Ghost Dance', some kind of tribal/spiritual chanting which goes down very well in my house, this change of pace into darker moodiness lending the album needed weight.

    'Babelogue' is an excerpt from a spoken word rap taken from one of her concerts and rapturously received by the audience in attendance, even though it's basically free-form nonsense. The controversial 'Rock N Roll Nigger' comes closest to the feel of her debut 'Horses', the energetic musical backing feeling a little less straightforward rock than much of the LP, certainly the first half. The second half following 'Rock N Roll Nigger' seems deeper to me, certainly less 'instant' and takes time to soak into your skin, but it does. Suddenly 'Easter' becomes classy and intelligent. Well, the two minute 'High On Rebellion' can be ignored as a nonsenical blast of emotion but the title track is utterly superb. The production of rock producer Jimmy Iovine is a million miles away from what John Cale lent towards 'Horses', yet Patti Smith continued to be an interesting and fascinating artist. The more straightforward 'rock' of some of this album has dated the album to the era from which it came yet the highlights are intriuging enough to keep you coming back.

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    this page last updated 06/02/10


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