Thursday, 2 June 2011
MUSIC (RETROSPECTIVE): PATTI SMITH: LAND and PENETRATION: THE BEST OF PENETRATION
I think I mentioned in another post that we'd recently been sorting out the garage where, among much else but not a car, I stored many of my books, CDs, DVDs, and graphic novels. In the process I found two boxes of CDs which I hadn't seen for a few years and were buried at the bottom of the piles of boxes of other stuff. Much of it hadn't been copied onto my Itunes and, in turn, my Ipod so I spent a couple of days doing just that, adding over 2,000 tracks. I also took the opportunity to weed through and add a whole lot to sell on Amazon Marketplace. along with a few DVDs, books, and graphic novels of which I'll be adding more over the coming weeks.
One of the CDs I particularly missed was this one because I think Patti Smith is/was one of Rock's greats. Some people believe, including me at times, that she's a pretentious twat. The two aren't mutually exclusive -just check out Babelogue/ Rock'n'Roll Nigger- and I think she's produced some absolutely fantastic music. The track(s) I've just cited are a perfect example. Opening with a poem/rant, apparently live with her seeming to sometimes stumble over words, as it builds in pace towards the end, the band comes in fast but at first low until it finally segues at a pace like a bat out of hell (sorry) into the song in which (and I have to use the word because of the context of the song no matter how revolting I find it) niggers are used as a metaphor for the outsider figure in which she names Jesus, Jackson Pollock and Jimi Hendrix as niggers 'outside of society'.
The first CD is a good collection of her more accessible work, mostly recogniseable rock songs and mainly from the 70's, including her big hit co-written with Bruce Because the Night. To list the standouts would be list pretty much all the tracks so I'll just say it ends with a rather lovely and subdued cover of Prince's When Doves Cry.
Unlike CD1 which was chosen by her fans, the tracks on the second are her choices and unsurprisingly are much more idiosyncratic, not worse just different. It opens with Piss Factory, not so much a song as a spoken monologue with piano and bass accompaniment. After that is a chunkachunkachunka Redondo Beach. A little later is a no compromises rock live 25th Floor. Folkie, hard rock, poetry, jazz, and all shades in between, this isn't to everyone's taste but it's a fascinating compilation.
Penetration were a little-known punk/new wave band and I think I'll introduce them by quoting in its entirety Allmusic's short piece about them. Copyright All-Music Guide.
The only summation one can make of the career of English punks Penetration is, what a disappointment. In 1977, Penetration released a classic chunk of punk rock defiance titled "Don't Dictate." With Pauline Murray's impassioned vocals (sounding a bit like X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene) leading the way, this was a blazing piece of anti-authoritarian rant: loud, snotty, and proud. Sadly, it was to be the one song they remained best noted for (assuming there are people who still remember Penetration). The problem was that they traded in barely competent but energetic bashing and thrashing for a more "mature" new wave/"punk-ish" rock sound. As a result, their debut LP, Moving Targets, although it has its moments, never lived up to the promise of "Don't Dictate." Still, Pauline Murray was a force to be reckoned with. Easily one of the best singers to come out of English punk rock, she made the band interesting even when the songs weren't there, the production was overwrought, and the whole enterprise was terribly uneven. It was to the surprise of no one that by 1980 she was fronting a new band, the Invisible Girls, who based on Murray's strengths became known as Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls. Still, major success eluded Murray, and she later moved into singing more elegant, mainstream pop/rock, remaining one of England's best unknown singers.
I don't particularly agree with all of the above but it's not inaccurate either and at least they give Pauline Murray due credit. She should have been a star. But there's also a reason I've paired up Patti Smith and Penetration apart from finding them next to each other in the box and that alphabetically they're close to each other on my Ipod.
While undoubtedly inspired by the punk movement, this band from the Durham County hinterland were, I have no doubt and Pauline in particular, were also inspired by Patti Smith. One of the best songs on the record, and one of my favourite tracks ever, is their cover of Smith's Free Money. Smith's original is hardly understated but Penetration, while pretty much copying her version, take it that further so that if the original slams you against the wall, this one knocks you right through it.
Listening to one compilation after the other there are surprising resonances despite the difference being akin to that of the differences between a League Two football (soccer) team and a Premiership club (and that is the only football analogy you'll ever read here).