By her own reckoning, Patti Smith’s award-winning 2010 memoir “Just Kids” sold more copies than any album she’d made. “Banga,” its literal (and, in many ways, spiritual) follow-up, is a rumpled, unmade bed of a disc that mixes recitatives and more conventionally figured rock and folky punk songs.
Named for Pontius Pilate’s dog in the beloved-by-rock-stars Russian novel “The Master and Margarita,” “Banga” features ruminations on religion, the environment, art and death, sometimes all at once: “Constantine’s Dream” is a flawlessly executed sung/spoken-word piece about Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca that feels every one of its 10-plus minutes; “Amerigo,” the opening homage to Amerigo Vespucci, is pop-meets-lite-poetry; and “Fuji-san,” about the Japanese earthquake, is the only thing here that can remotely be considered a punk song. The album ends with a stately cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” that underscores, but does not belabor, the original’s themes of environmental decay.
“Banga,” which was recorded in the same place and with many of the same people as Smith’s famed debut, “Horses,” isn’t above some tasteful blog-baiting: “Nine” is a birthday homage to Johnny Depp (“He sought not for himself / The empire he would find”). “This Is the Girl” is a mournful doo-wop tribute to Amy Winehouse, although its lyrics (“This is the girl for whom all tears fall / This is the girl who was having a ball”) evoke someone else entirely. Both songs are lovely and slight; taken together, they officially mark Smith’s transition from ’70s transgressive to the punk-rock grandma of the AARP.
“After the Gold Rush,” “Fuji-san,” “Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter)”