Only Smith’s second album in 10 years, Gone Again was preceded by a succession of less welcome milestones: the deaths of Smith’s husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, her brother Todd, longtime friend Robert Mapplethorpe and her former keyboard player, Richard Sohl. It’s an album made of necessity, gathering old friends Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty to take stock of what remains. Co-credited to her late husband, the title track opens the album with a burst of angry guitar, but for the most part, the mood is subdued, pushing towards acceptance, endurance, and, in the case of the Kurt Cobain-inspired “About a Boy,” understanding. “Wing” is as lovely and heartbreaking a song as Smith has ever recorded, a transparent hymn of loss and hope.
Gone Again is inspired by loss, but it also celebrates the common experience of grief. Smith opens “Farewell Reel” with a spoken dedication to her husband, then follows it with a list of the song’s chords: G, C, D, D minor. Anyone can play along, and sooner or later they will. Smith doesn’t push towards universals as forcefully as on Wave, but they emerge all the same from amidst a thicket of personal, sometimes indecipherable, images. Her loss is our loss.
As much as it’s a series of farewells, Gone Again is also the mark of Smith’s full-fledged return, her most fully realized album since Easter and a high-water mark of her latter-day career.