Now that she's been officially resurrected with a successful comeback album, a spot on Jay Leno and an adoring profile in The New Yorker titled "The Torch Singer," what's next for Patti Smith, the woman who's gone from poet to painter to rock star to Detroit suburban homemaker and then back again? Obviously, a best-of boxed set, even though the concept is so essentially un-Patti.
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Actually, Land (1975-2002) is really a best- hits CD allegedly selected by fans and a second, more atmospheric pastiche of demos, live cuts and assorted snippets from Smith's long, strange career. Of course, there's a photo-poetry mini-booklet thrown in for the literati as well. The package provides a pretty good representation of the two public faces of Smith: the arty rant-poet and the pop chanteuse.
If all that "I don't fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future" stuff on "Babelogue" gets a little too pretentious, and you couldn't care less whether Johnny is getting raped or drowning in vomit on "Horses," then there are any number of cuts here where Smith demonstrates she can bend that slightly nasal contralto around a pop hook with the best of the girl-group priestesses.
Smith has had only one hit single in her career ("Because the Night," co-written with Bruce Springsteen), but removed from their album contexts, most of these pieces, including "Free Money," "Ain't It Strange," "Gloria," "Dancing Barefoot" and "Frederick," sound remarkably commercial. Given the popular Saturday Night Live caricature of Smith as a screaming, spastic punk rocker, it's easy to forget what a shameless romantic she really is, singing songs stuffed with syrupy lines like "no star is too far with youuuuuu."
A longtime Smith fan with all her albums won't find anything new on the first CD, with the single exception of a cover of "When Doves Cry," punctuated with a sinister rattling guitar chuck and a multitracked vocal that obliterates the Prince original. The second, artist-chosen CD includes the A-side from her first single release, "Piss Factory." Unfortunately missing is the campier B-side, "Hey Joe," with its charmingly dated musings about Patty Hearst getting it every night from a revolutionary man and his women. But maybe Smith, whose career shows no signs of winding down anytime soon, is saving that nugget for the next retrospective.