Gung Ho

Patti Smith

Arista Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


No one likes Patti Smith's new album.

I've read reviews, I've asked people who have purchased her albums (the two people that I know) and sadly, by looking at the charts. People who have bought Gung Ho, her latest album, have either raved about it or have little praise for it. Ah, the hell of living in the shadow of a classic album.

When Patti Smith recorded Horses nearly 25 years ago, there were far more barriers to break down and it was a helluva lot easier to shock people. True, hearing her bellow, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" still gives chills up my spine, but face it, you can't expect her to re-create that environment. Nor should we expect such a gifted artist to be complacent with repeating a formula.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That's not what Smith is about. And Gung Ho shouldn't be compared to Horses or even Easter. Taken as an individual work, Gung Ho is a gorgeous album that is a welcome addition to a year that has been dominated by boy bands and lame metal/hip hop hybrids.

Smith retains most of her band from Horses, mainly Lenny Kaye on lead guitar and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums. But it's not a "let's get the band back together" type of album. Gung Ho is a new version of Patti Smith, different even from her persona on Gone Again, her 1996 comeback album.

The new Smith and her bandmates bring in include dabbles in dance rhythms in songs like "Persuasion" and "Glitter In Their Eyes" and a new focus on straight-ahead song structure, such as the beautiful, "Lo And Beholden" and "New Party." Catchy is one word that I would never associated with Smith, but there are at least six tracks on Gung Ho that will no doubt linger in your head once the album has ended.

Nostalgia creeps into Gung Ho. Many of the songs have scattered references to the Vietnam War. And "New Party" calls for a political party that better represents the people. Smith cracks, "Why don't you fertilize my lawn, with what's running from your mouth" on this song. As good as her intentions are, the song is a rant about "those clowns in congress." Sorry, but politicians are fairly easy targets. Her powerful poet-delivery voice resonates in "Strange Messengers," but her tying the horrific imagery of slave ships and her damnation of those who have wasted their heritage on smoking crack is a bit far reaching, even for her.

Still, I'll take over-ambition over complacency any day. And Smith's looseness has given her a renewed confidence you can hear throughout the album. The tribal beats that close "Gung Ho" close with Smith breathing out, "Give Me One More Turn." She is reflecting on revolution, via personal or an organized formation. And her unfortunate departure from Arista makes one wonder if Gung Ho may be her last full testament put to record. If it is, then Clive Davis, former head of Arista Records, has reason to be proud.

No, it's not a revolutionary album. Just a flat-out good recording that is one of the best of the year.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.