Patti Smith Group – Easter Arista AB 4171 (1978)
Here is an album that has always underwhelmed me. Coming on the heels of the transcendent and Earth-shattering Horses and its worthy (if sometimes neglected) follow-up Radio Ethiopia, Easter is something of a let down. For one, Patti just doesn’t sing well. Take “Because the Night.” With stronger, more impassioned vocals it could have been something special. Then there is the pretentious and cringe-inducing stab at world music influences on “Ghost Dance.” These kinds of missteps are all over Easter. There surely are good moments too. “Babelogue/Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger” is Patti at her best, and it’s one of her great moments on any album. But that song is not the norm here. Patti’s earliest work was really poetry set to music, but then, at some point, she transitioned — at least for the most part — to writing “songs” in the conventional sense. This is perhaps a subtle thing to grasp in listening to her music, but it is noticeable. Easter revels in a few too many Doors-like psychedelic blues jams and doesn’t feature enough of Patti’s righteous poetic monologues — the kind of thing that made her stand out from everyone else. In terms of writing songs, the well had run a bit dry after Radio Ethiopia (“Space Monkey,” really?) and better attempts lay ahead. The somewhat weaker material might be forgiven if Patti sang the stuff more confidently, but she doesn’t. That is the main reason this one usually just sits on my shelf collecting dust.