Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Patti Smith left the music business a cult hero and returns a myth. Unpredictable, funny, hugely ambitious, she was a poetic visionary who thrust herself into the pantheon occupied by the doomed rock stars she adored, retiring after she finally scored a hit single with 1979's Because the Night--and also catalyzed New York's punk scene and cut four indelible albums. Long before her shtick could get tired, she resettled in Detroit with former MC-5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith, her collaborator on two sons and 1988's Dream of Life. But when her husband died of a heart attack in 1994, Patti decided to answer the prayers of old fans who'd never forgotten and young ones who had been soaking up her lore for 15 years.

Her offering, Gone Again (Arista), is pretty prayerlike itself: The recent deaths of not just her husband but at least three other loved ones have plainly left her grief-stricken. Nevertheless, the dolor of the title track--a solemn celebration of death's relief cowritten by Fred--does lift appreciably with the other song he cowrote, a goofy anthem of ritual abandon called (and in some sense about) Summer Cannibals. And if that's the only full-fledged rocker with Smith's signature on it, the lyricism she builds off it should be enough to appease her faithful and, at the very least, enlarge her cult.

Stereolab and Sammy are two silly little bands too smart and catchy for their own good. That Stereolab's Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra) features wise-ass English techno kids fronted by a French Marxist yy girl singsonging in a distracted soprano while Sammy's Tales of Great Neck Glory (DGC) features wise-ass suburban alt-guitar kids whining lovingly about their small-time traumas is secondary. These two records prove there are still young people who think popcraft is too important to be left to professionals. And I'm her to thank them for it.

Playboy, June 1996

May 1996 Aug. 1996