After years of silence, Patti Smith returned to music with a series of concerts in late 1995. It had been years since she had performed live – for most of the '80s and '90s, she concentrated on domestic life. Following the death of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, in early 1995, Smith began playing music in public again and those concerts eventually led to the triumphant comeback Gone Again. Her husband wasn't the only loved one Smith lost between 1988's Dream of Life and 1996's Gone Again – her brother and her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe both died.
According to her brief liner notes, Patti Smith indulged the idea of a covers album, considering songs as far back as 1978 on the back pages of Jean Genet's Thief's Journal when she was still assembling her groundbreaking early catalog; it's evident she feels that covers have been part and parcel of her recording experience from the outset. Her debut, Horses, has her own apocalyptic version of Van Morrison's "Gloria" as well as a healthy portion of Chris Kenner's "Land of a Thousand Dances" inside "Land." On 1979's Wave she covered the Byrds "So You Want to Be (A Rock and Roll Star)," and scored with the single. Her intuitive reading of Bob Dylan's "Wicked Messenger" was a beautiful aspect of Gone Again in 1996, and she paid tribute to Allen Ginsberg by using one of his poems in "Spell," on 1997's Peace and Noise.
Patti Smith's late-'90s comeback was devoted to reflective, intensely emotional music that explored her life in seclusion and the losses that forced her to reconnect with the larger world. They were acclaimed, ambitious, successful records, but they steered away from Smith's angry, activist muse, plus her penchant for visceral music. She rediscovers both on Gung Ho, her most immediate album in years.
After a prolonged retirement, Patti Smith returned to action in 1996 with Gone Again. It was recorded after she suffered the loss of both her brother and her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, two losses so great that it's not surprising she is still exploring that pain on Peace and Noise, which quickly followed Gone Again in 1997. Patti had been working on Peace and Noise with Fred before his death, and its issues are appropriately more domestic than those on Gone Again.
Patti Smith completed her contract with Arista Records after 27 years by assembling this compilation, which serves as both a best-of and rarities collection, one disc devoted to each. Disc one is drawn from Smith's eight studio albums (with the exception of a newly recorded cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry"). Having scored only one hit single, "Because the Night," Smith was not constrained by chart performance, and she seems to have chosen the songs that still mean something to her (though in an interview she claimed to have taken fan preferences into consideration). Curiously, given the album title, the epic "Land" is missing, as are such straight-ahead rockers as "Ask the Angels" and "Till Victory."