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Patti Smith mixes pop, poetry, memory

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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.

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“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) JAMES REED


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