Patti Smith Paul Nelson

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Paul Nelson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If critics are having nightmares these days, one of the worst of them will undoubtedly be about not liking "Horses," Patti Smith's ubiquitous debut album. Without missing a beat, the nation's linotypers seem to have shifted from Springsteen to Smith, and there is no escaping this strange New Jersey Nightingale. Sneakers are out, Rimbaud is in, and I feel so poeticized I could die. However, after listening to the record a dozen times, not only do I not like "Horses," I never want to hear it again—these days a difficult admission to make.

"Horses" is so clearly a classically idiosyncratic "first" album that perhaps the artist's subsequent records will illuminate its not inconsiderable virtues and make it seem much better in years to come than it seems now—even the mistakes of heroes can be heroic. I doubt it, but I hope so. Inwardly vulnerable and outspokenly naïve, Patti Smith is after all a heroine only half-baked, though she seems to have accepted her (possible) stardom as if it were a divine right….

"Horses" plods far more than it prances.

Poet Patti Smith loved rock-and-roll long before she decided to become a rock-and-roll singer. And once the decision was made, I suspect, she accepted it as already accomplished fact, rushing through her first album as if some kind of transition or training period were unnecessary. She can talk all she wants to about Mick, Keith, and Brian, but "Horses" sounds less like a Rolling Stones record than a poetry reading at the local "Y." She may look, she may even think, rock-and-roll, but more often than not her carefully precise recitations lack the craziness of the real pandemonium she is striving for. Right now, it's all too serious, not enough fun.

Try as I might, I simply cannot warm to the music and poetry of "Horses." I respect the effort behind it, but how much can you respect a record you wouldn't dream of playing for pleasure? "Patti Smith is nothing if not new" is the line of defense her admirers offer to mockers, but the album sounds to me like a morbid, pretentious rehash of Jim Morrison and Lou Reed, Smith's two major late-Sixties influences. Even Land, the best song in it, said to be based on a vision of Jimi Hendrix's last hours, metamorphoses from the Velvet Underground into the Doors for one of its neatest tricks. Free Money , another of the better cuts, cleverly weds love to money, making all the double entendres triple, but musically it is again derivative...

(The entire section is 651 words.)