Just listened to the new Patti Smith album Trampin’ , which is one of the best of her career — a beautiful rock record of entrancing guitars and vocals that show her in peak condition. It whispers and it roars.

Before I go off on a tangent, I should mention that the softer songs on the record are the highlight… softer and more reflective than I’m accustomed to hearing from Smith. “Mother Rose” is moving and dreamy in a style that recalls Roxy Music. There’s plenty of her characteristic spoken-word rock here, which may please her fans but it’s growing old for this listener. “Jubilee” nearly qualifies as inspiring with its album-opening classic rock riffs. I appreciate her exhortations to vigiliance and activism.

But, unfortunately, Smith is still lost in her beliefs and hopes that the world will be saved by human kindness alone, that “Maybe one day we’ll be strong enough / To build it back again / Build the peaceable kingdom / Back again.”

On the record, she predictably blames the Bush administration for all the world’s ills, suggesting that the answer lies in Ghandi’s example and in massive gatherings of peace children.

She wants it all — the mystery of God, the symbolism of Scripture (lions and lambs), the hope of eternity and universal peace–but she’d like it without the example of Christ, the freely offered grace from a benevolence beyond the failings of human endeavor. Closing with an old spiritual, she claims, “I’m trampin’, trampin’, trying to make heaven my home.” But what heaven does she believe in? Sounds something like Phillip Pullman’s “Republic of Heaven” istead of anything acknowledging the presence of God. She’s stuck tryin’ to make earth her heaven, on her own power,instead of looking to heaven for the grace that can save the earth.

In “Jubilee,” she exhorts us to “Discard your Sunday shoes” and “Be a Jubilee.” Strange, since Jubilee is the tradition of showing gratitude to God every seventh year, and Sunday is the Jubilee day of the week. Once again, she’s defaulting to the power of gospel terminology while denying what it is that gives that terminology power.

Is “Cash” a tribute to Johnny Cash? If so, I don’t get it. The song waxes sentimental about “the human soul… its beauty immaterial.” I much prefer Emmylou Harris’s memorial to the man and his story. Listen to Harris’s acknowledgment of the God who made Cash what he was, to the woman and the marriage that made his life a miracle, to the family that surrounded him, and Smith’s song doesn’t sound like a tribute at all.

Most unfortunately, Smith reveals that she subscribes to the extreme-left folly of celebrating the glories of Muslim culture even as she spews vitriol against the West for its violent evils. She doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between murderous jihadic arrogance and a people willing to put their lives on the line so that others may know release from the perpetual torments of a tyrant. She doesn’t seem to realize that the very freedom which allows her to record her own music and share it with us is a uniquely Western privilege, and couldn’t happen in the “cradle of civilisation” she so reveres here.

Granted, there have been grave missteps in Bush’s war against Eastern extremists, and I’ll be among the first to call him out for his support of Rumsfeld’s misguided endeavors. But I can’t sit quietly while someone oversimplifies the conflict to say “Poor poor Baghdad, evil evil George W. Bush.” A generalization is a generalization, and dangerous, whichever side of the fence offers it up.

If Smith is so concerned about cruelty, where is her song about Saddam Hussein? Hussein’s the kind of guy who would visit a town in his own country and, when people flocked to see him, he would send out his troops to murder anyone who didn’t come to see him, out of fear that they were plotting against him. Where’s the glory in that? She wants the song “Radio Baghdad” to be “Bullet the Blue Sky,” but she’s been blinded by the same disease that cripples Michael Moore’s films: she can’t seem to detect evil except that which exists within America’s borders, and she ends up portraying other cultures as idyllic wonderlands in comparison. Too bad she can’t go back and spend a few years as a traditional woman in Baghdad before Hussein’s fall, just to see how much she likes it.

I’m sure to hear from readers that I’m blowing one song out of proportion, but for this listener, the song sticks out on an otherwise carefully paced album, the bluntness of its broad-stroke anger soiling what could have been a poetic exploration of another culture.

I’m not formatting this as an “album review” at Looking Closer but as a commentary. I’m not terribly interested in spending more time with this record because, for all of her rock’n’roll prowess, she fails to captivate me the way she has in some of her previous works. Her record feels divided between shallow humanistic optimism and anti-war pulpit-pounding. Thus, Trampin’ is a sorely flawed work philosophically, even if its rocks circles around most of the music that tries to preach the truth.

But I’ve happened upon good news: All of the hype over the Jack White/Loretta Lynn collaboration has been on the mark. I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and bask in the fiery glow of Loretta Lynn’s new album Van Lear Rose. Here’s my review.