Patti Smith

Whether we're talking about her demonic warble, which soared like a transcendental battle cry above her band's shambolic, proto-punk arrangements, or her unkempt andro-butch glamour, which enamored legendary homosexual photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Seventies rocker Patti Smith has made a career of finding beauty in the grotesque. With the help of producer and ex-Velvet Underground man John Cale, the verse-spitting songstress's cacophonous yowling and the primal rumble of her pared-down garage rock — emblemized on the reissue of her iconic first album, Horses — became the saving grace of the punk generation.

Although Smith's desultory talk/sing method comes across as a bit dated at times, gems such as the anthem "Land" — a paean to molten aggression, replete with images of rape and flame-breathing horses — spin listeners into a cathartic frenzy. However, it is still Smith's notorious opener, "Gloria," that effectively encapsulates the album's fury. Its unapologetic first line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," blazes with Smith's raging lyrical brilliance. The song is an anti-canonical reworking of Van Morrison's misogynistic classic, but by the time Smith is done, she has strung the original into an orgasmic stream of absurdist poetry and foot-stomping sexual chagrin.

While fans might argue that Smith's revelation-slinging parables are relevant today, it's ironic that the prime hellion of rock and roll, who detested the very idea of having her work canonized, has been marked by the throngs as a sort of glorified prophet. But despite the ragged vagabond beauty of Horses, it's impossible for the album to retain its status as a revolutionary act of defiance — especially when juxtaposed against its bland 2005 live version. It is too reactionary, and too much has happened since — the AIDS epidemic, the backwash of the free speech movement, so many political disappointments, and Smith's inauguration into the musical elite — for the album not to collapse under the weight of history.

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Nirmala Nataraj