Picks and Pans Review: Dream of Life

UPDATED 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

Patti Smith

Conspicuously absent from Smith's first record in nine years is the free-form, anarchistic songwriting that brought her to the forefront of the American punk movement in the '70s. She has replaced that angst-driven expression with a more tightly focused sound and a lyricism almost nonexistent in rock music today. Smith, now 41, left the recording-touring grind in 1979 and settled down to raise two children (a son; Jackson Frederick, 5, and a daughter, Jesse Paris, 2) with husband and musical collaborator Fred "Sonic" Smith. While this return is a seasoned work, it possesses a bite. The album's central theme is communion, whether between a man and a woman (as in the title track), a parent and her child (The Jackson Song) or mankind (People Have the Power). Patti matches her vivid poetic images to often deft musical passages. Looking for You (I Was) is a standout, with lovely pop elements backing Smith's musing on the possibility of finding love: "In the medieval night/'Twas love's design/And the sky was open/Like a valentine." It's interesting to hear Going Under and think of Kate Bush singing the song, an indication that Smith has still had an impact on other performers even though she has long been far removed from her contemporaries. The record ends with The Jackson Song, a devoutly personal tune written for her elder child, where Smith sings of the twin feelings of sadness and joy a parent experiences in watching offspring become independent: "And in your travels you will see/Warrior wings, remember Daddy/And if a mama bird you see/Folding her wings, will you remember me?" This is a far cry from the rage of Rock 'n' Roll Nigger (from Smith's 1978 album Easter), but that record and Dream of Life might be seen as bookends holding together the rest of what has passed for intelligent pop music during the last 11 years. (Arista)

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