This actually doesn't come from ILM, but rather it's a chapter I contributed to German rock scribe, Sky Nonhoff's book, "Don't Believe the Hype: Die miestüberschätzten Platten der Popgeschichte". Very similar to Jim DeRogatis' "Kill Your Idols" (I'm not sure which beat which to the bookstore, but Nonhoff's is -- sadly -- a Germany-only publication so far), "Don't Believe the Hype" culled together several essays devoted to toppling many of rock's sacred cows. I'd met Sky back in the Autumn of 2002 while visiting Munich, and he gamely asked me to be a part of it. So, I volunteered my services for skewering this album, and Sky also had me tackle Appetite for Destruction by Guns'n'Roses (look for that soon). I submitted the review below. Sky translated it (he's multilingual) and it's now out in finer bookstores everywhere....er...everywhere in Germany, that is. Being that I don't speak a lick of German beyond what I've picked up in war films, I cannot say whether or not the text below at all mirrors the text that appears in the book when translated. In any case, here it is. Thanks, Sky. Sorry, Patti.
Initially released in 1975 (when the pop charts were clogged with the Carpenters and the Average White Band), this debut album by Patti Smith is roundly hailed as a cornerstone of Punk Rock. Drenched in self-indulgent melodrama, however, Horses sounds more at home rubbing shoulders with the hoary likes of Meat Loaf than with comparatively spartan albums recorded by Smith's fellow CBGB's alumni like the Ramones and the Dead Boys. Its arguable merits strenuously extolled by U2's Bono and REM's Michael Stipe, Horses has attained canonical status, but closer scrutiny begs the question, does it really measure up?
An accomplished wanna-be made good, Patti Smith came to New York City as a desperate scenester with a fixation with Mick Jagger and Arthur Rimbaud. Through a strategy of opportunism that set the template for unhealthily ambitious scenemakers like Courtney Love to follow years later, Smith managed to befriend and manipulate enough people to put together an ensemble featuring rock critic and Nuggets-archivist Lenny Kaye on guitar, Richard Sohl on piano, Ivan Kral on bass and Jay Dee Daugherty on drums (seen inexplicably brandishing a switchblade on the inner sleeve of Horses). Having assembled her gaggle of feathered-haired henchman, made a name for herself from hanging around with all the "right people" and her aggressive, unsolicitedly confessional poetry, Patti ditched her dalliances as a full-time poet and/or painter in favor of becoming a rock'n'roll star (and started to behave accordingly). Landing a contract with Clive Davis' Arista Records and roping in ex-Velvet Underground bassist John Cale as producer, Patti checked into Jimi Hendrix's fabled Electric Ladyland Studio to record her first long player.
"Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine," intones Patti as the album begins. It may be an auspicious opening statement, especially for its era, but the thrills come few and far between after that. While her affinity for Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and other yawnsome rock dinosaurs cannot be overstressed, it's Smith penchant for the pompous faux-Shamanism of the Doors' Jim Morrison that really mars this vinyl. Her limited, amateurish "vocals" pushed way up in the mix (dwarfing the contributions of her bandmates), Smith coughs up couplets of supposedly deep nonsense before hijacking "Gloria" by Them (a song also covered by the Doors) newly rife with references about dry-humping parking meters.
That cover version deflowered and out of the way, it's strictly downhill from there. "Redondo Beach" is such a shoddy, ham-fisted attempt at reggae that it makes Sting at his worst sound positively like Peter Tosh. "Birdland," meanwhile, is a babbling rant that makes for an excruciating nine minutes and fourteen seconds of z-grade, masturbatory poetry and shameless self-indulgence that sounds like some extra-chromosoned offspring of Jim Morrison and Van Morrison after a rude round of drunken buggery. Following that bloated mess, "Free Money" wheezes out of the speakers in a damp fart of treacly pianos and anemic guitars and Patti's overwrought mewling with little or no regard for tempo.
Apologists continually cite the band's "crude" playing, whereas "meatless" might be a more appropriate term. There's still plenty of needless filigree, though, well to the fore on "Break It Up," which finds Television guitarist Tom Verlaine succumbing to classic rock excesses by strangling his fretboard for his former girlfriend (Verlaine was yet another stepping stone on Smith's path to stardom). The album's centerpiece, "Land", comes mumbling out next, finding the singer's grating pronunciation of the world "locker" as a convincing argument for poetry to be left on the silent page and kept away from the microphone at all costs. Nine more aimless minutes of incomprehensible exhortation and a lifeless pilfering of "Land of a Thousand Dances" later, this flimsy vessel hits the rocks with the drunken thud of "Elegie" a funereal dirge suffocated in mawkish lament by the flaccid guitars of Blue Oyster Cult's Alan Lanier, begging the question: "who invited him?"
Arista's 1996 re-release of Horses on compact disc appended a live cover of the Who's "My Generation" that displays a more feral performance from Patti's gang. That exciting aesthetic seems entirely missing from the album, however, which comes largely unencumbered by memorable tunes (apart from the appropriated ones). An epiphany for some, and a sacred cow in dire need of toppling for others, Horses is the quintessential example of an album that is more "important" than good. A few short years after this album's release, No Wave enfant terrible Lydia Lunch made a scathing indictment in the Soho Weekly News that Patti Smith was nothing more than a barefoot hippy, and the chore for the listener steeped in tuneless bellowing and hollow histrionics that is Horses only confirms that.