After a life of punk and art and poetry, Patti Smith stood down to raise a family and lead a normal life, but now she's back in the game with her eleventh studio album, a dreamy waltz she calls Banga. It's part poetry reading, part slow dance, and possibly the strongest ensemble album of her otherwise stellar career.
Though there aren't any blood-boiling hits like "Gloria" or "Dancing Barefoot," nor any awkward experimentation, Banga is a solid soundtrack that serves to highlight what Smith does best: rip your soul out with simple words. There may be a theme here, but the songs bounce from topic to topic. Opener "Amerigo" visits the first contact between the Europeans and the Caribe Indians -- the bad stuff hasn't happened yet and there's still a mysterious fascination with discovering an unexpected civilization. Did the Spanish strip off their armor and dance naked in the rain? Probably not, but the image is striking. Title track "Banga" sounds like it might be sung by the ghost of Jim Morrison, while "Maria" is as good a lost love song as I've ever heard.
Twinges of electric guitar soar in the background, perhaps Aerosmith is rocking out in the next studio, but in here, in this most public of all private spaces, we are in tears of joy.