One year after 'Horses' Patti Smith released 'Radio Ethiopia' under the band's new moniker, The Patti Smith Group. Continuous touring and increased experience with their instruments had produced a band that were fully realized. 'Radio Ethiopia' is my personal favorite PSG record. I remember writing to Patti (she always answered letters directly, or through her Mom) and receiving a signed photo saying 'radio ethiopium'. Indeed, this record had a druggy feel to it (check out the song 'Poppies'), but it was not a lazy stoner feel or a wired Iggy and The Stooges feel, it was the feel of manteca caressing her bones into a slippery smooth groove that felt just right.
The record starts off with Ask The Angels. Both Ask The Angels and Pumping (My Heart) are the most rocking The Patti Smith Group have ever gotten, probably the result of her relationship with Blue Oyster Cult's Alan Lanier (Patti made an appearance on the BOC record 'Agents Of Fortune' singing the song 'Vera Gemini'). Ask The Angels always brought a smile with its ambiguous chorus of 'Wild, wild, wild' which she pronounced like 'quaalude'. Ask The Angels was always my favorite song to play when introducing new fans to PSG. It is catchy and well-formed.
Ain't It Strange has a reggae beat, but it is a far cry from the 'Horses' cut Redondo Beach. Ain't It Strange is Patti Smith at her mystical best, spewing poetry in her true stream of consciousness lyrics filled with exotic imagery.
Poppies is my favorite cut on this record. It is her classic - as profound as Velvet's 'Waiting For My Man'. Like 'Land' from the 'Horses' LP, I believe that no one has topped Poppies to this day. On the LP she said Poppies was inspired by Edie Sedgewick, Jim Morrison, and the queen of sheba.
Pissing In A River is my least favorite song on the record. I'll take her debut single'Piss Factory' over the drama in Pissing In A River.
Pumping (My Heart) has already been mentioned with Ask The Angels, but it deserves separate mention as well. Simply put, killer! A headbanger song from the queen of poem.
Distant Fingers is a very soothing reggae tinged track with lyrics about aliens landing that recall the little guys in Liquid Sky.
Radio Ethiopia/Abyssinia is the albums 'difficult' track. In 1976 it seemed so crude and out of place with the carefully constructed worlds The Patti Smith Group were producing. But on this ten minute track Patti is playing Fender duo-sonic giver to her by MC5 guitarist and future husband Fred Smith (same last names purely by coincidence). Patti is no guitarist, so she predates noise bands and even Sonic Youth by years on this track. Radio Ethiopia/Abyssinia is a monster, it has lasting power and has become one of my favorite PSG tracks. Listen to her quote Hendix ('with the power of soul, anything is possible') in the lyrics.
This CD reissue contains a bonus track 'Chicklets', a six minute previously unreleased track from the original sessions. Chicklets is not any major revelation (Patti sounds like a wastrel), though it will be nice for fans. Radio Ethiopia is the sound of the lifestyle Patti preached: go to the edge till only a thread holds you back, then take one more step. Come back and tell about it.