Patti’s Long-Gestating Covers Album


While this is technically Patti Smith’s first all-covers album, she’s always fiercely remade and remodeled other folks’ material, paying homage yet artfully claiming the songs as her own. That impulse continues on Twelve, evidently on her to-do list since 1978. Sturdily backed by her longtime band—along with the Chili Peppers’ Flea and Television’s Tom Verlaine, who contributes blistering slide guitar on a primal “Gimme Shelter”—Smith shifts much of her focus subtly away from the instrumentation and toward a song’s intention and lyrics, with often revelatory results. Strip away Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” of its smug Afropop and you have free-flowing, circuitous verses pushed by their own rhythm; the guttural rage of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” buttressed here by dulcimers and bluegrass fiddles, becomes a mournful hymn. Along with the usual rock gods (Hendrix, Dylan, the Doors), Smith’s jukebox includes some unexpected selections, including “Midnight Rider” (Allman Brothers? Who knew?) and a joyous, heartfelt rendition of—wait for it—Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Fine, laugh, but Smith turns the MTV staple into a triumphant populist anthem with warmth the original never had. It’s not Patti’s song, but it’s deeply personal nonetheless.