CD Review of Twelve by Patti Smith

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Released: 2007
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I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith first heard Patti Smith’s cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

I really would.

I’d like this because I think I would’ve witnessed a very interesting display of facial contortions as the duo tried to work out exactly how they felt about what they were hearing. On the one hand, they’re being paid the supreme compliment of having the high priestess of American punk record one of their songs, and that alone has gotta be worth a smile. On the other hand, though, she…well, frankly, she sounds as though she isn’t the least bit interested in singing it. It’s a muted, unenthusiastic performance without a hint of the power that Smith brings to her own songs, and, ultimately, it makes you wonder why she bothered to record it in the first place.

Fortunately, there aren’t many other moments on Twelve – Smith’s entry into the covers-album genre – when she sounds quite so indifferent. Equally, though, there aren’t many songs that she makes her own, either, and given her track record when it comes to covers (“Gloria,” “So You Want To Be [A Rock N’ Roll Star],” “My Generation”), this comes as a legitimate shock.

There are highlights, to be certain. The album opens with an exceptional take on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Are You Experienced?” that starts things off solidly; too bad it’s followed by that Tears for Fears cover, which kills the momentum dead. Smith’s version of The Beatles’ “Within You, Without You” takes the Sgt. Pepper track voted Most Likely to Be Programmed Around and provides the best cover of the song since Sonic Youth took a stab at it; meanwhile, although the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” has been covered countless times, it doesn’t keep Smith’s growling version from being worth a spin.

Unfortunately, however, the remainder of the album turns out to be either unnecessary (the rendition of “White Rabbit” adds precisely nothing to the Jefferson Airplane original), well-intentioned but misguided (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was quite fine without being stretched to six and a half minutes and having a spoken-word rant added to it), or just not very good; I can’t tell you how depressing it is to include Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” in this category, but I gotta call ‘em as I hear ‘em.

Versions of Dylan’s “Changing of the Guard” and Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider” are nice enough, and closing with a gorgeous version of Stevie Wonder’s “Pasttime Paradise” results in a better finale than anyone might’ve hoped for, but it still can’t save Twelve from being an overall disappointment.

~Will Harris