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.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 17, 2007