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***, PATTI SMITH, "Gone Again", Arista

June 16, 1996|Steve Hochman

Death is hardly a new subject for Smith. In a two-decade-plus body of work that places the punk poet among rock's most essential figures, she has alternately shrugged it off and probed it for meaning. But in dealing with the loss of her husband, her best friend and her brother--all during the eight years since her last album--she can do neither. "Gone Again" often lacks the spark and the art of her best music, as well as the resilient spirit she showed in recent concerts. But it is a deeply personal requiem that presents Smith at her most emotionally naked and lyrically direct.

The album starts with a flash of the old bravado in the title song, the last piece she co-wrote with her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith. Its compelling, Who-like riff and chanted lyrics provide a forceful opening, but the hard facade crumbles with the next song, "Beneath the Southern Cross," Smith's voice breaking in a Hamlet-like meditation of mortality: "Oh / to be / not anyone / gone."

The melancholy takes different shapes--"About a Boy," a touching ode to Kurt Cobain; "Dead to the World," an anguished, neo-Appalachian waltz--but remains unrelieved save for two numbers: the frivolous "Summer Cannibals" (also co-written with her husband) and a stormy version of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger," one last stab at fighting off sorrow. But inertia takes hold in the lengthy, amorphous "Fireflies," and while in the closing "Farewell Reel" she finds some measure of comfort in nature's beauty, it leaves little sense of closure.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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