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The Cradle Mellows Patty Smyth

March 22, 1987|DENNIS HUNT

Patty Smyth, one of rock's rowdiest ladies, has turned pussycat.

Smart move. Rock insiders were convinced that she was inadvertently grooming herself to fill the vacancy left by the mellowing of Grace Slick. Smyth seemed headed for the Hell-Raisers Hall of Fame.

But suddenly she's mellow.

Smyth, who's still lean and slight, just doesn't seem quite as tough and cocky as she used to be.

Recently Smyth, 29, surfaced with her first album in three years, "Never Enough"--on Columbia Records. Her last one, "Warrior"--featuring the hit single "The Warrior"--sold 1 million copies. She seemed to be on her way to dethroning Pat Benatar, then the Queen of Rock. But then Smyth vanished. What happened to the surly, wise-cracking New Yorker?

She got married to former punk-rocker Richard Hell and had a baby. Marriage and motherhood, it seems, have tamed her.

"You can't keep doing the same things when you get married and have a family," she said. "You have to slow down. You have to be responsible. You can be crazy if you only have yourself to worry about. I can't be that way anymore."

Smyth was in town from New York recently on business--without her 18-month-old daughter.

"I'm like any mother with a new baby," Smyth said in the cocktail lounge of her West Hollywood hotel. She ordered something non-alcoholic.

"I miss my kid. I like to be with her. Other stuff doesn't matter as much anymore."

This is the same hard-as-nails, street-wise woman who could intimidate people with just a look? "I know this is all different and I sound different but this is the way I am now," she said. "With a baby, you have to be responsible, selfless and patient. I was never into those things. I got what I wanted. I did what I wanted. I didn't consider myself a patient person. I'm still not, actually, but when it comes to her I am."

Smyth recalled her carousing days. Smyth said: "I did a lot of hanging out on my last tours a few years ago. But I'm not into being in bars all over the country now. They're all basically the same, particularly in Middle America."

Now she even looks with some disdain on the wild life she used to lead. "I don't know how people keep on hanging out," she said. "It's sort of empty."

Though extensive carousing is a thing of the past for her, she hasn't turned into St. Patty just yet. "Oh, hanging out is OK once in a while. I do it when I'm at home in New York. But I do it on a minor-league level now."

Anticipating the questions about mixing motherhood and rock 'n' roll, Smyth said: "I don't want to bore people with stories about being in rock 'n' roll and being a mother. Other singers do it. I can too. I just do what I have to do. It's not that hard. It's just different."

"Warrior," a robust rock 'n' roll album, was one of the best of 1984. Smyth now looks back on that effort rather critically: "It didn't show all I could do. Sing it high and hard. That's what that album is all about. I was singing the same thing over and over."

This was a subtle dig at Mike Chapman, who produced the album. Though Smyth claimed to admire him and his skills, by reading between the lines one could sense her dissatisfaction with him.

Smyth actually started an album project with Chapman in 1985 that ended when she became pregnant. "It flipped him out that I was pregnant," she said. "He said he was happy about it but I don't think he was. That's the word I got.

"Anyway, I was apprehensive about working with him again. I wasn't sure I could get to the next level with him. I wanted to stretch and be versatile, be eclectic. I couldn't do that with him."

She hired producers Rick Chertoff and William Wittman for "Never Enough." They do bring out of different side of her. It turns out that, vocally, there's substantially more to Smyth than she shows on "Warrior." The new album, which features a minimal composing contribution from Smyth, rocks just as hard as her previous album or the 1983 EP that kicked off her career. But "Never Enough" also features a wider variety of material--including a Tom Waits song--which shows off Smyth's vocal range and flexibility. In many ways, this is her best album.

When she emerged in 1983, Smyth was working with Zack Smith in a band called Scandal. She split with Smith, who co-wrote songs with her in the early stages of the band, in 1984. During her recent hiatus, she sacked the name Scandal. Now it's just Patty Smyth.

One thing she doesn't have to worry about now is comparisons to Pat Benatar, which dogged her a few years ago. Since Benatar became a mother, she's not the rocker she used to be. Her Queen of Rock title is up for grabs.

Armed with this fine new album, Smyth may claim the title herself.

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