negative review of radio ethiopia

[from article by Marianne Partridge, Melody Maker, October 23, 1976]

Patti Smith certainly has one hell of a lot to answer for. Not only does she unashamedly use her band as a backcloth for her pretentious "poetic" ramblings, but she simultaneously comes on as the saviour of raw-power rock and roll as it struggles to survive the onslaught of esoteric rock. In other words, she's into the myth-making business. And in this, her second album, the myth is exposed . . . as cheap thrills. At least Horses had the dubious privilege of a rabble rousing version of Them's "Gloria." But on Radio Ethiopia all the cuts are by Patti and Band. Lenny Kaye's obsessive use of feedback (a mistake, as he consistently bungles it: the secret of feedback lies in knowing how to play a guitar first) receives full play in tracks like "Pissing In a River" and "Pumping (My Heart)." In even worse shape is the Smith voice, with the by now characteristic puppy-dog yelps substituting for range. In Radio Ethiopia she worries at the notes like a rabid dog, mangles them and gets lost in the feedback; a singing equivalent of the very worst kind of sound poetry. If you really want to hear beauty in chaos, try the Red Buddha Theatre's "Mandala," where against a similarly discordant background the crowd's voices achieve an empathy Patti Smith would never bring off. All this plus pathetic tricks like incessant scraping up and down fretboards and out-of-tune guitars and a backbeat that reaches the robotic mean average and thereafter never deviates from it. Even a promisingly funky melody in "Distant Fingers" gets swallowed up in the maelstrom. An inarticulate mess.

Copyright © Marianne Partridge 1976

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