The notion of Patti Smith as priestess dates to “Horses,” her 1975 debut. Even as a young woman, she seemed to see something beyond the rock music she was making and the poetry she was writing. There has always been a sense of the unattainable in her songs.
More and more, though, we are starting to see Smith for what she really is: memoirist. “Just Kids,” her 2010 account of the inextricable ties she shared with her friend the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award for nonfiction that year.
“Banga” is her first album since that triumph and also the first one of new material since 2004’s “Trampin’. ” It carries on in the rich vein of Smith trying to make sense of the world around her.
It’s a classic Patti Smith album in that it mixes pop panache with punk sensibilities and poetic ruminations. The adult-contemporary polish of “Amerigo” and “April Fool,” featuring Television’s Tom Verlaine, is far removed from the crude mechanics of the title track. And “Constantine’s Dream” unfurls over 10 minutes like a mystical incantation ripped from an ancient text.
Set to a swaying doo-wop melody, “This Is the Girl” honors the late Amy Winehouse (“This is the girl / For whom all tears fall”); it’s part prom slow dance, part eulogy.
Children’s choruses are tough to stomach on rock records, but somehow Smith employs one to poignant effect on a piano-driven cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.” She puts a finer point on the song: What will happen to future generations if we continue to abuse the environment? (Out Tuesday)