Nearly 30 years after her extraordinary debut album, Horses, Patti Smith is still taking her role as poet as seriously as ever. The job description still reads; social commentator/conscience as much as a weaver of dreams. Aesthetically, Trampin' is an album that's a million miles away from the barbed wire urgency of Horses, yet lyrically and in spirit it's as urgent and insistent as ever. This isn't to say that Smith ever lapses into didacticism or preachiness. Her observations on a post-9/11 USA tread a fine line between beautiful reconciliation and righteous anger that's purely personal in its perspective. Maturity, it seems (Smith hit 57 last year) has allowed the former 'punk priestess' to find a middle ground that never smacks of compromise, yet allows itself to be as luxurious as it is hard-rocking.
A lot of this is due to Smith's current band. Now also approaching their third decade as her sidemen, old hands like Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty along with second guitarist Oliver Ray (Smith's partner) provide a bedrock that's equal parts garage and tight professionalism. Not only is the playing accomplished, but Smith's vocals haven't lost the ability to glide between ballad and rant with ease. This adds a humanity that stops a song like the opener, ''Jubilee'' ('We will never fade away. Doves shall multiply. Yet I see hawks circling the sky, Scattering our glad day') becoming too anthemic. Yet she's still able to do the extended stream of invective stuff on ''Gandhi'' (a rather simplistic take on the man of peace) and ''Radio Baghdad''. The latter is a chilling, 12 minute condemnation of US foreign policy that focuses on the cultural heritage being tramped (ho ho) all over by Bush and his ilk. It also contains the sounds of Iraqi children at play.
But, for someone who's made her reputation as a somewhat scary, hard-hitting advocate of individual freedom and a woman's place in the phallocentric world of rock, this album drips with a sensitivity that makes all the worthiness infinitely more palatable. ''Mother Rose'' and ''Peaceable Kingdom'' (an optimistic song of solace for a country still traumatised by the loss of the twin towers) both beguile as much as move, and the title track's touching combination of Smith and her daughter on piano reminds us of her unquenchable belief in the human spirit over tyranny. In an age of apathy and irony Smith still wants to give power to the people -and that in itself is a reason to love this album... --Chris Jones
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