After the back-to-back triumphs of Gone Again and Peace and Noise, Patti Smith settled into a cadence that you’d expect from a getting-up-there-in-years legacy artist who isn’t named “Neil Young” and started releasing new studio albums at an ever-decreasing clip, interspersed with best-ofs, blown-out reissues and cover albums.
And while I didn’t fully enjoy either 2000’s Trampin’ or 2004’s Gung Ho, I’m willing to put that on me, especially since I loved 2012’s Banga as much as any record she’s ever released outside of the almighty Horses.
And for me, the greatest song on Banga — just outpacing the gorgeous “Fuju-San” — is the single, “April Fool,” which kicks off with an old-school electric piano and sweetly chiming guitars from Lenny Kaye and her son Jackson, who’d been playing with her off and on during the comeback, over which Patti cajoles a potential love interest.
Come, be my April fool
Come, you’re the only one
Come on your rusted bike
Come, we’ll break all the rules
At first, it almost seems too straightforward, but then about halfway through, something happens: Tom Verlaine shows up. Now, we’ll get to how much Tom Verlaine’s guitar playing rearranged my brain in a couple of years, but suffice it to say that it’s welcome in my life under just about any circumstances.
And, of course, Tom and Patti go back just about forever: he co-wrote and played on “Break It Up” from Horses; her long-time drummer Jay Dee Daugherty played on Tom’s first two solo albums; and he’s been playing off and on with her on live shows — including the one I got to see in 1996 — and studio albums since her comeback.
But nothing he’d done on any of her records has ever pushed my buttons like his playing on the back half of “April Fool:” first he starts of with those little sighs he gets, and follows that up with quick curlicues while Patti continues to inquire about whether or not you want to be her April Fool, but with that guitar, it’s that much more irresistible. Shit, I think I even hear some handclaps in there.
In the end, “April Fool” just kinds breaks down, and glides to a sweet, soft landing.
Almost seven years after it came out, Banga is the final statement on record from Patti Smith — who, as I write this, is currently touring so it’s not like she’s retired or anything — and if it remains so, then it’s a nice high point with which to end a groundbreaking and all-around stellar career.
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