Music News

Patti Smith

While this is an essential archive of a key figure in modern rock, what you like of it will depend on how open you are to a woman whose best material -- the lyrical "Come Back Little Sheba," the furious "Pissing in a River" -- pushes the rock envelope into the literary, occasionally pretentious realm.

The first of these two discs is more predictable, because Smith's fans essentially chose the tunes by voting via e-mail and requesting songs at concerts. It includes, of course, her only Top 20 hit, "Because the Night." The second disc, whose tracks Smith selected, consists largely of unreleased cuts, including the classic "Piss Factory" (a working-class rock 'n roll epic) and the powerful "Higher Learning."

A prime mover in early punk, Smith is Chicago-born, New York-savvy, oracular, demagogic and openhearted. She doesn't attempt to reconcile the opposites within her, which is evidenced by her tender version of Prince's "When Doves Cry," the anger of "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger," the utopian anthem "People Have the Power" and the despairing, rueful "Dead City." Smith rocks and poeticizes hard, though she rarely swings. She has outlived friends, lovers and family to become an icon of feminist resilience. How fitting that Susan Sontag wrote the liner notes.

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Carlo Wolff