Album: Patti Smith and Kevin Shields, The Coral Sea (PASK)

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The Independent Culture

Kevin Shields' first sustained original work since My Bloody Valentine's last record, 1991's Loveless, is entirely in the service of Patti Smith's long poem in memory of her early lover, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of Aids.

On two hour-long readings of that work at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2005 and 2006, Shields precisely modulates feedback, and lets low, long, vibrating notes swell to some sort of climax. Both CDs sound as if they were recorded deep in the hold of the symbolic, mist-shrouded ship where Smith casts her poem's hero.

This Mapplethorpe figure is similar to the angelic boy she saw Kurt Cobain as on Gone Again (1996), another work powered by death. It takes a while to get used to Smith's sensual language, and the attention span her unbroken incantation requires. But The Coral Sea's weird narrative, in which women slit open their wombs for men to crawl back to and clouds can be climbed, attains giddy momentum. And Smith, on the more confident second show especially, channels Jim Morrison to aggressively suggest just the sort of transfiguration she must have wished for Mapplethorpe.

Pick of the album:CD2, Tracks 1 and 4