Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wave (1979)

Maybe I'm kind of an oddball Patti Smith fan, because after Horses, which safely qualifies as life-changing, this almost sad gesture toward the mainstream is my favorite album by her. Todd Rundgren as producer used to strike me as strange—in 1975, when I most adored both of them, separately, it never occurred to me their paths could cross. I recall Patti Smith in 1979 widely considered as something of a problem—unfocused, hysterical, an embarrassment. Going off a high stage in 1977 and breaking her neck was part of it. Being a woman was probably more of it. Ultimately it didn't matter because she married and went away soon after this, and five years later the whole episode felt a bit like a dream. But I really warmed to Wave once it found its way into my house, as a cutout a year or two later, if memory serves. It starts strong with the three singles, "Frederick," "Dancing Barefoot," now practically a signature song, and a cover of "So You Want to Be (A Rock 'n' Roll Star)," which reminded us, if we needed the reminder, and I think we did, that the majority of her most ecstatic roots were playing on the radio between 1964 and 1967. The focus is mostly lost by the back side of the set but momentum carries it; that and a natural focus on those first three songs, which drew me back continually. When I was working this into the shuffle in anticipation of writing about it I was at first alarmed by how weak these random songs were. But once I played it in track sequence from start to finish it all came back. As for the professional polish, yeah, it's there. But I don't think the intentions were on the order of selling out. I think they have more to do with a needy artist who needs love and has always been perfectly willing to put that out there. She does her thing, and always has, but there's one eye cocked on the audience at all times. There's no other way she could have possibly become one of the great rock 'n' roll performers, which is what she was at least the night I saw her in 1976. She was trying to please then and she's trying to please here. And not making a bad job of it either.


  1. I saw her a few times in the 70s, going back to '76, and I agree, she was a fired-up live performer. Saw her a couple of decades later, and she was somehow both more mature and the same oddball, which was a nice combination.

  2. I saw her in the '90s and liked her a lot then too. She seemed almost shy -- quite a difference.