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Patti Smith and Kevin Shields: The Coral Sea

Patti Smith and Kevin Shields: The Coral Sea

Release Date:2008

By Judy Berman | Posted 8/6/2008

While Robert Mapplethorpe was dying of complications from AIDS, his close friend Patti Smith found herself paralyzed, unable to do anything but cry, The Coral Sea's Smith-penned liner notes recount. After he passed away in 1989, she resolved to pay him a fitting tribute, publishing the titular book-length poem seven years later. Until she invited My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields to compose an accompanying piece of music, she couldn't bear to read the piece in public (again, according to the liner notes). Finally, in 2005 and '06, the pair gave three performances of The Coral Sea, two of which are preserved on this double-disc live album.

The epic Coral Sea recounts a fictionalized Mapplethorpe's final sea voyage. Smith grapples as much with the disgust she feels at her own uncontrollable grief as she does with her hero's impending death. An electrifying, spontaneous, and genuine performer, she infuses each word with emotional depth, often repeating lines for effect. Smith and Shields are wise to include both a raw, almost ferocious, 2006 performance and the more controlled 2005 recording. Though sometimes overwritten, her poetry is richly evocative. Shields' score mimics the ocean itself, swelling with discord like a storm at sea during the most intense and revelatory lines and retreating at delicate, thoughtful moments.

Of course, the recorded version of The Coral Sea can't help but suggest how much more affecting the performances must have been in person. But since it's unclear whether Smith and Shields will ever take their show on the road again, the album will have to suffice.

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