Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Crack in Everything: Horses

It's time for another instalment of A Crack in Everything, where great albums get a great big boot up the arse. Our subject this time around is Patti Smith's Horses...

It's the album that cemented Patti Smith's status as the godmother of punk. It's a forty-year-old rock 'n' roll record that thousands of people are still clamouring to see performed live by its sexagenarian creator. It's the LP that inspired countless people (not least a young Michael Stipe) to make music of their own.

Horses is a lot of things to a lot of folks. But is it perfect? If you answered 'yes', you clearly haven't been paying attention to how this works.

Before I tell you what's wrong with Horses, though, I'd like to say sorry to tracks 3 and 7. Had I written this blog last year, Birdland and Land would have been the first loose threads I tugged at, but when I saw Smith and her band perform Horses in Barcelona a few weeks ago, those twin ten-minuters were unquestionably the highlights. Birdland especially had always rather bored me at home, but stood there in front of the Heineken Stage, I finally clicked with the song's transcendent, atmospheric mood. It was a bit of an epiphany, and I wish to apologise unreservedly for my previous ignorance.

However, one song that did leave me rather cold in Barcelona (figuratively speaking) was Redondo Beach:

I love the *sound* of this song - the drums, the organ, the choppy guitar figure - but seeing it live made me realise how...well, boring it is. Unlike the best songs on Horses (Gloria, Free Money, and - how the scales hath fall from mine eyes! - Land), it doesn't rise, build, or really go anywhere at all; it just sits there, spinning its wheels and twiddling its thumbs while Smith has a go at reggae and we all wait for her to finish up and get back to the fun punky stuff.

However, Redondo Beach notwithstanding, I do feel that the first half of Horses is noticeably stronger than the second. The slump is less noticeable now that I've learned to love Land, but I still feel that Break It Up and Elegie let the side down a bit. The former is a blustery fist-clencher that lives and dies on the fact that the chorus is loud and the verses are quiet...

...and Elegie, in spite of being rather lovely, loses points for ending the album with a whimper rather than the full-blooded wallop it deserves.

I might have been more forgiving of Elegie in particular if it had been the penultimate track on the album, a brief moment of mourning for fallen friends before Land or Free Money or something closed out the album properly. In fact, Horses may be the only album that has ever been IMPROVED by the addition of a bonus track; my copy has a live cover of The Who's My Generation tacked onto the end of it, and this makes for a much better, more fitting finale than Elegie.

It's not elegant, but it works for me!

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