A fine place to sample much of Smith’s considerable oeuvre.
David Sheppard 2011
Incredible as it seems in this age of merciless repackaging, Outside Society really is only Patti Smith’s second ‘greatest hits’ collection. Culled from her Arista and Columbia albums, taking in everything from 1975’s seminal, John Cale-produced Horses to 2007’s cover-version project Twelve, it’s a remarkably consistent assemblage; Smith, for all her wide-ranging musical and literary influences, having never lost faith with the transformative, tabular rasa potential of rock’n’roll, stripped to its three-chords-and-the-truth essentials.
Despite being a 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Smith has stayed, as the album title alludes, unwaveringly aloof from celebrity culture. Yet even at 64, her influence remains pervasive: PJ Harvey’s career, for one, is unimaginable without Smith’s precedent, and empowered, cerebral female rock stars from Siouxsie Sioux to Warpaint all owe her.
Unsurprisingly, most of Smith’s most celebrated songs are here: the intense, orgasmic beat-poet-rock of Gloria; the gloriously swooning Dancing Barefoot; the anthemic, heart-swelling People Have the Power and her only bona fide ‘hit’, the enduringly romantic, Springsteen co-written rock hymnal, Because the Night. There’s also room for lesser-aired cuts, like the mellifluous-yet-dark 1996 invocation of the American South, Summer Cannibals, and the odd, dated anomaly, like Ain’t it Strange, whose clumsy, white reggae fumbling nails it implacably to the year 1976.
As with nearly all so-called ‘best of’ albums, some song choices are contentious. While we get a brace of cover versions – a somewhat perfunctory gallop through The Byrd’s So You Want to Be a Rock'n'Roll Star, plucked from 1979’s Wave, and an admittedly innovative, de-grunged reading of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, from Twelve – there’s, sadly, no room for her pre-Horses single, Hey Joe, with Smith taking exultant wing on Tom Verlaine’s guitar flights, nor its B side, that most excoriating of rock’n’roll paeans to blue-collar disenfranchisement, Piss Factory. Together, they are effectively the tipping point at which Patti Smith’s poetess pupa first burst open to reveal the boho-seer, rock-star butterfly of legend.
For all that, if you already own the essential Horses, this is a fine place to sample (at least most of) the best of the rest of Smith’s considerable oeuvre.