Review of Outside Society (Greatest Hits) Album by Patti Smith

Outside Society presents a difficult challenge for Patti Smith. The so-called 'Godmother of Punk' has always relied on the album format as opposed to singles to forward her artistic vision. This newest Greatest Hits package cherry picks from each of her albums; from the stunning debut Horses to the uneven cover versions of 2007's Twelve. Admittedly there's not really a bad track here, but it's also not the most accurate representation of her career.

Patti Smith Outside Society (Greatest Hits) Album

That's somewhat of a surprise too, as Smith has personally selected the track listing and provides brief written vignettes to accompany the songs. It does however feel like an attempt to introduce a new audience to her work following her acclaimed memoir Just Kids, and that can't really be a bad thing.

The predominantly chronological ordering found within Outside Society's 18 selections does prove to be somewhat of a problem, with the experience akin to that of a pinball machine. One minute you're presented with Patti's venomous and snarling punk persona, only to then confront her more straightforward pop compositions, followed by her poetic inclinations. Part of her power as an artist has always been the thematic cohesion of her albums, a trait that's sadly missing here.

With the opening refrain of 'Gloria' Smith takes Van Morrison's familiar song and instantly stakes her claim to the material, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine". She transformed the song into a punk standard with its spiky guitars and freight train rhythm section. It acts as the perfect starting point for this collection, and where some would argue the inclusion of earlier single B-side 'Piss Factory' would be preferable, 'Gloria' bookends this package with closing track 'Trampin'' surprisingly well. Both feature prominent piano melodies and deal with religious imagery.

'Free Money' seems like an odd choice as the only other inclusion from Horses, although it demonstrates some of Patti's stream of consciousness lyrical delivery, it isn't one of the more memorable tracks from its parent record. An early highlight though is the Springsteen penned 'Because The Night' from Easter. It remains Smith's pinnacle of singles chart success, and understandably so, with its anthemic overtones. As Patti's more commercial side made itself known in the late seventies her song writing mellowed somewhat to produce the sublime 'Dancing Barefoot' which is paired here with 'Fredrick', a pop song that Kate Bush no doubt took notes from.

The remaining tracks selected tick all the right boxes with highlights including; the eighties gusto of 'People Have The Power', the more reflective 'Beneath The Southern Cross', the seemingly grunge influenced guitar of '1959' and the divisive radical reworking of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. The absence here of some of the more immediately personal songs about the loss of her husband Fred 'Sonic' Smith from 1996's Gone Again, do mean that Outside Society presents an incomplete picture of Smith as an artist though.

Outside Society remains an inessential purchase then for the initiated, who will find a more satisfying experience with any of Patti's studio albums. For those unfamiliar with Smith's impressive back catalogue though, Outside Society is as good a jumping on point as any.


Jim Pusey

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