Patti Smith is a poet. A singer. A revolutionary. An icon. Every note she sings and every word she writes is loaded with so much meaning the listener is left with the feeling that she/he must do something. Laugh, scream, cry, speak out- it doesn’t matter what you do, just do it. She is an artist that incites rebellion and introspection at the same time, and every album is filled with stories of where and who she was at that time, leaving one the feeling of having just read Smith’s diary in a most public way. She is the embodiment of personal as political.
That being said, Outside Society had to be a difficult undertaking for Smith. To pare down a life’s work to 18 songs, and still maintain integrity, hardly seems possible in the case of such a prolific artist. She has, of course, accomplished just that-because she is Patti Smith, superwoman for who all things are possible. Although the album seems somewhat scattered and disjointed, it really is a great snapshot and showcase of her work. Outside Society could just as easily be called ‘Patti Smith for Dummies,’ with its chronological exploration of the most listener-friendly songs in Smith’s collection. This is by no means a bad thing; it is just not for anyone already familiar with her work.
It is an album complete with the songs that started it all, such as “Gloria,” and “Dancing Barefoot,” as well as her most famous radio hit (on which she collaborated with Bruce Springsteen) “Because the Night.” Also included in the compilation are her renditions of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and Roger McGuinn’s “So You Wanna Be a Rock Star.” Although Smith is nothing but original herself, she has become recognized as an artist who honors what others’ songs mean to her by covering them with the utmost respect.
Outside Society is not for the person who has followed Smith through her life’s journey, or anyone who jumped on board along the way. However, it is a succinct introduction for someone who is not familiar with her work but wishes to get one’s feet wet, and it is sure to lead to immersing oneself further into the world of Patti Smith. So, jump in, listen, and get caught in the wave.
[Note: This review is also published at Kevchino.com, and can be viewed here. I decided to post the review in its entirety here because its Patti, and she deserves more than just a link, ya know?]