- Audio CD (June 5 2012)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Sony Music
- ASIN: B007PVHBHC
- Other Editions: Audio CD | LP Record
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #14,030 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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LP Record, Jul 10 2012
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Banga is Patti Smith's first collection of original material since 2004's critically-acclaimed Trampin'. The album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City and produced by Banga is Patti Smith's first collection of original material since 2004's critically-acclaimed Trampin'. The album was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City and produced by Patti Smith and her band: Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daugherty and her long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye. Featured guests include Tom Verlaine, Jack Petruzzelli, Smith's son Jackson and daughter Jesse Paris. Inspired by Smith's unique dreams and observations, Banga's poetic lyrics are a reflection of our complex world a world that is rife with chaos and beauty. Praised for her storytelling abilities, Smith has crafted an album that captures a wide range of human experience. There is an exploratory spirit in the songs that make up Banga, including a melodic overture imagining the voyage of Amerigo Vespucci to the New World in 1497 ("Amerigo"), a rock song for the people of Japan in the wake of last years earthquake ("Fuji-san"), a classic ballad in memory of Amy Winehouse ("This Is The Girl"), an improvised meditation on art and nature ("Constantine's Dream") as well as a birthday song written for her friend Johnny Depp ("Nine").
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The opening “Amerigo” is promising indeed, an unexpected mix of poetry and strings and drums. Both melody and lyrics are simple, smooth, intriguing, and the following “April Fool” has a pop-inflected charm. But the following tracks are trivial. “Fuji-san” is, in a word, uninteresting. “This Is The Girl” sounds like something Blondie might have recorded for John Waters’ 1981 movie POLYESTER. The title cut, “Banga,” has some interesting lyrics, but they really don’t go anywhere worth mentioning.
The collection begins to recover itself with “Maria,” which has a melancholy elegance; “Mosaic” and “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop is Jupiter)” only hint at the power of Smith’s best incantations. Even so, it isn’t really until “Nine” that Smith achieves the sharpness one expects, and then the following “Seneca” is yet another “not quite” incantation.
Smith usually includes an unusually long piece on most of her albums, and these are sometimes spectacular (most famously “Land” on HORSES) and sometimes singularly unfortunate (notably the title cut from RADIO ETHIOPIA.) On BANGA, the big piece is “Constantine’s Dream,” with a run time of ten minutes nineteen seconds—and here she redeems the previously lackluster pieces, offering a swirling vision of artists and warriors and dreams. I would not describe this as among Smith’s best, but its pretty damn close.
The collection ends with a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush." I have to say that I did not expect much from this—Smith isn’t exact the sort of vocalist you expect to hear covering Young—but she gives it a powerful but simple interpretation, ending BANGA on a strong positive.
Patti Smith has been one of my favorite artists since I discovered her with her first album HORSES in 1975. If I wanted to introduce her to a new listener, I would pick HORSES, EASTER, PEACE AND NOISE, or TRAMPIN’. But while it has its moments, BANGA is distinctly second tier.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
In my estimation, Banga suffers from three separate but related problems. First, the lyrical content is a virtual catalog of Smith's esoteric enthusiasms. The first six songs alone deal with historical (the 15th-16th century explorer Amerigo Vespucci), literary (the writers Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov), cultural (the singer Amy Winehouse and the actress Maria Schneider) and environmental (the 2011 earthquake in Japan) themes. This may have been very fascinating for her to ponder, write and perform but, at certain point (and that point comes very quickly), the relentless highmindedness of the material overtakes the album and an atmosphere of airlessness begins to prevail.
The second problem with Banga is that the album is, by and large, musically uninteresting. There are a diverse array of styles on display but very few of the songs stick with the listener (or at least this listener) for very long. Tellingly, the most musically interesting song on the album doesn't come from Smith and her band but instead is the Neil Young composition, "After the Gold Rush," which closes out the album.
The third, final and perhaps most significant problem is the song "Constantine's Dream". Clocking in at 10:19, "Constantine's Dream" ties together such disparate figures as St. Francis, the Roman Emperor Constantine and Christopher Columbus into a poetic narrative that takes up a considerable amount of time but never really gets anywhere. The long-form poem set to music is one of Smith's favorite devices (dating back to "Birdland" and "Land" on 1975's Horses) and, over time, has become her least effective. Every Smith release since 1996's Gone Again has featured one of these long-form poems in either the second-to-last or final position in the track listing. Tellingly, none of these would-be epics have survived in her permanent live repertory the way the lengthy Horses tracks continue to endure in repertory.
For all that, I will say that the release of Smith's book M-Train in 2015 has helped me to understand Banga a little better. M-Train is an exceedingly well-written literary journey which finds Smith traversing time and space to describe her life with her deceased husband, Fred 'Sonic' Smith, her artistic enthusiasms, her dreams and even her habit of drinking copious amounts of black coffee. Taken as a companion piece to M-Train, Banga begins to make more sense as further 'stations' on the M-Train. It's not enough to reclassify the album as a neglected masterpiece but it does put the album in a different context.
I just saw Patti live in Portland Oregon (2/26/13) and her performance surprisingly only included 4 of these songs (April Fool, Fuji-san, Maria and Banga), but they were all fantastic and fit in seamlessly with her older material. I was expecting to hear Constantine's Dream, the latest edition of her classic building-to-frenzy ranting epics, but since her whole performance has that effect it wasn't missed....
Banga has a great mix of songs; rocking, mellow, swirling, soothing, in Patti's unique punk/rock/trance shaman priestess way. She is a real national treasure, an artist's artist, with a wonderfully earthy yet delicate voice, and great, tasteful rock solid backing. This recording is also impeccably produced.