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Published: 2004/06/30
by Chris Gardner

Trampin’ – Patti Smith

Columbia Records

Patti Smith was a poet first and a rocker second. The music wasn't
straining to burst fully formed from her breast, the attitude was. When
Trampin’ sticks to that basic punk-rock aesthetic – attitude first,
music second – Smith is at her best: edgy, confrontational, in your face
spittin' passion. She wears her heart and her politics on her sleeve, and
they are both better served when the music is punched up with aggression.
"Jubilee" is a call to arms, a call to action, a call to stand up waving
that long bony finger and screaming for justice in a country that seems to
have jumped the rails. "Stride of the Mind" (perhaps the album's best
track) and "Ghandi" spit similar venom.

As she calls America to its feet, Smith doesn't mince words or dress them up in poetic garb: "Awake from your slumber/ Awake from your slumber/ And get 'em with the numbers/ Get 'em with the numbers." Her poetic activism is at its best during the inclining spoken drone of "Radio Bagdhad," where she juxtaposes the intellectual peaks of the city's history with the ignorance and greed that rendered it a, "City in ashes." The lyrical and musical fury lurch forward as Smith builds up a head of steam, snarling, "Shock and awe," and growling, "They're robbing the cradle of civilization." In these moments, Smith is fully alive, and fully effective. Her indignation finds its mirror in the simple, jagged rock n' roll under the guidance of producer Tom Verlaine (psst…go buy Television's Marquee Moon right now. No! Stop! It's better not to read the end of this review anyway. Go now!) Here all things click. The wheels are chugging, all cylinders are clicking, insert personal metaphor here.

As for the rest of the album… um… quite frankly, I both like and admire
those four songs so much that I'd rather just stop and say, "I'll never
listen to the other seven tracks again," but I suppose that would be a cop
out. Smith's more personal efforts (I'm thinking of "Cartwheels," "My
Blakean Year," and "Peaceable Kingdom" here) are overwrought both lyrically
and vocally. Smith's strengths are in growling, indignation, and righteous
anger, not singing, consolation, and personal revelation.

While the abundant misfires (insert your own Patriot/ Scud gag here) taint
the album, the four clean strikes stand as excellent protest music. The
rules for strong protest music are simple. Say it straight. Say it with
indignation. Cut to the bone. Leave your fist up. At her best, Smith hits
it right on the head.

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