"Patti Smith has been many things to many people: Art house poseur, sneering punk, a resurrected Rimbaud, uncompromising,
impenetrable, gender bending and groundbreaking. No one denies she's the godmother to punk and hero to many women rockers everywhere.
Now as she inhabits her slightly more kindly opinionated middle age, she releases a collection that's as willful and original as
her whole career has been. The first disc is an homage to Smith's deep-seated belief in democracy. The playlist resulted from a
survey of some 10,000 audience members. The tracks range from classics like "Gloria" to the incredibly, and almost embarrassingly
sincere yet rousing, "People Have the Power." Some of the songs show their age, but overall the first disc is a very nice
introduction to the many stages of Smith's career.
But the second disc is really the meat and potatoes of this release. The early demos are fascinating, quickly sketched portraits
of the artist she was. A stripped down "Redondo Beach" exposes the Jersey girl's accent in all its harshness, while reminding
us that Smith is one of rock's great storytellers. Check out the early use of reggae. The live tracks on the second disc are phenomenal.
They show off the tight lineup of musicians she's assembled. The band can rescue dated material and bring a modern alt-rock clang
to the new songs. These tracks also highlight Smith's terrifying powers of performer. A live version of "Birdland," a
song off her first release Horses, was recorded in Paris in 2001. The performance is magnificent and stately, dripping with sublimated
horror, and coming to an astonishing climax. When I first listened to it, I had no idea the track clocks in at over nine minutes.
The box set is a remarkable document, and it's remarkable how well the whole enterprise hangs together. It's rare that such an influential
artist can maintain her intensity and vision, but Patti Smith has done just that, or certainly rediscovered it with full force."
Copyright © National Public Radio 2002