Gone Again

Mourning becomes electric. In every way — musically, lyrically and, for Patti Smith, quite literally — Gone Again is a record about the cycle of life, death and rebirth, an acutely personal expression of prolonged grief in which surviving the worst of it is possible only by cutting to the heart of it. Smith's words and music, and the intimate, maternal force of her voice — the way it rises with ravaged defiance and settles into dramatic passages of stark, confessional poignance — resound against the black-hole echo of departed souls: Kurt Cobain; Jerry Garcia; Smith's husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith; her brother, Todd; and her close friend and lifelong collaborator, the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. But in addressing and assessing the weight of all that loss, Smith emphasizes and draws on the resilient magic of art and camaraderie, sometimes with a shy, almost retiring, country-folk subtlety ("Wing," "Ravens"), at other moments with a breathtaking, free-form grace ("Beneath the Southern Cross," "Fireflies"). Fred Smith, of course, is all over the record — in fact (his co-writing credits on the explosive "Gone Again" and "Summer Cannibals") and in spirit (the soaring marriage ballad "My Madrigal"). Yet the most compelling quality of Gone Again is the generosity of energy and warmth that Patti Smith brings to her passage through grief. It has been way too long between records and tours for her, but her sense of timing and strength of commitment have not failed her. As Smith sings with epic outrage in Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger," "If you cannot bring good news, then don't bring any." She just waited until she was ready.