A snotty music critic's hypothesis: No relevant artist releases a covers album. Several supporting examples have dropped in 2007 alone, and we'll get to those in a minute. Contrary evidence is scarce, but Exhibit A for the defense is Patti Smith's Twelve. Smith has always had a knack for rewriting and even improving other artists' songs, although several of Twelve's dozen covers ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Midnight Rider") are disappointingly straightforward. Even so, the album's better moments border the spectacular beat-punk-freak-out territory of "Gloria" and "Horses/Land of 1,000 Dances."
Smith's effort at originality is especially commendable considering some of this year's other covers albums. Poison's aptly titled Poison'd pours a cursed brew of classic-rock karaoke in your ear.
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A career full of suckage isn't a prerequisite for this terrible tribute album axiom the formerly awesome Bryan Ferry turned in Dylanesque, a sleepily crooned collection of Zimmerman's finest. These lounge-singer hack jobs lose their marginal novelty when you realize it's not Linkin Park getting Humperdincked here but "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Positively 4th Street." The record makes you wish for a mumbling Dylan revenge cover of "Do the Strand."
Speaking of spite, though, several artists are taking vengeance on the music world: We will be rubbernecking train-wreck covers albums from Korn and Barry Manilow in the near future, as well as a threatened Scarlett Johansson disc of Tom Waits songs. Yikes. Patti Smith, however, will be arguing the case for covers with her hyper-psychedelic version of "White Rabbit" and the jug-bandified "Smells Like Teen Spirit." She proves there's still reason to tear pages from another artist's fake book.