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coverpic flag US - New York - Full Moon 110 - 09/18/05

Patti Smith
Horses (Reissue)
Arista Records

There are so many documents of the mid to late 1970s CBGB punk scene, only a very small percentage of them are so perfectly rendered or wonderfully literary as Patti Smith's debut. To hear her own characterization of her music as "poetry over 3 chords", as heard by the unknowing novice listener, makes Smith sound like a female Cobain of a pre-grunge, ultra prophetic, all-star Nirvana before Nirvana existed. Not quite. A student of vomitific delivery and Jim Morrison's free verse, Smith pasted her tourette's syndrome waining holler over psycho-guitar, piano ballads, Van Morrison garage covers, and pre punk maelstroms with a Dylan-wannabe responsibility. Smith will always be an enigma, like the Velvets or Dylan himself, and an aquired taste to punk children born of the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

In sound, Horses is anything but minimalist - a most deceptive move by less-is-more provacateur and Velvet pianist/violinist, John Cale. Plug it into your iPod right now, and this reissue sounds like it was recorded yesturday, unlike anything else Cale had previously devised. Leaving out any tinny, lo-fi ideology, "Kimberly" and "Redondo Beach" built the Bridge between the Ramones and Blondie with synth-y organ and a waning whitch behind the mic. Nothing beats the spaz-out head banging glory of anthems of the transexual Van Morrison cover "Gloria", the suicidal "Land" or the mock-capitalist love affair in "Free Money".

What she did minimalize was the idea of the guitar epic, which in the seventies was epitomized by Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". The trippy three part "Land" feels more like a bar room blitz version of the Doors' "The End". It's a great precursor to the essential Television novel, "Marquee Moon". Suddenly Punk was less about putting leather Jackets on the Beach Boys and more about turning the San Fransisco sound upside down. "Elegie" is the epilogue to a fascinating novel, or even better realized as a collection of short stories of despair and disconnection, and plenty of Lenny Kaye guitar work to go around.

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