Boomkat Product Review:
Released at a time when Kevin Shields is conspicuously active, this album finds the My Bloody Valentine architect playing in support of Patti Smith in a live interpretation of her epic poem The Coral Sea (originally published in print circa 1996), Smith's tribute to controversial photographer (and her former lover) Robert Mapplethorpe. The album is presented as two different recordings: one from 2005, the other from 2006, though both recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In both cases, the poem is read over the course of an hour while Shields single-handedly concocts a guitar-based sonic backdrop, responding to Smith's agile, bewitching verse. Significantly the two performances mark two differing approaches on Shields' part. The first is characterised by billowing sheets of guitar, floating and humming, sympathetically following the cues set out by the text, while the second proves to be a more confrontational, combustive interpretation - something matched by Smith's own performance, which sounds manic and evangelical by the time we arrive at the poem's fiery climax, during which Shields fashions a great monolith of guitar sustain, shimmering with a vast, sprawled out intensity, which seems to grow and gather its resolve as the piece reaches its conclusion. Of the two renditions, the earlier 2005 recording proves to be thee most captivating and nuanced, and certainly the words feel more central to the listening experience. The 2006 disc is almost a duel between the two artists, growing ever more tempestuous over time, perhaps stifling some of the elegance and all round gravitas of Smith's writing. The subtlety of that initial meeting will likely be regarded as the more definitive (if such a thing can be said) of the two versions, best representing the poem as the modern day heroic-epic it was surely designed to be. Spoken word albums are seldom an easy ride, but there's real poetry in The Coral Sea, and it's probably one of the very best records Patti Smith has made in some years.