Break It Up
Calling Horses one of the first statements in punk begs the question of what punk is: A sound? An attitude? A political orientation? A stylistic one? In some ways, Smith was a traditionalist: She enshrined Bob Dylan, and once said that her blind love for her father was the first thing she sacrificed to Mick Jagger. In others, she was a radical—the resolve, the intensity, the way her performances stretch for a catharsis beyond sound. Reflecting on her label censoring her cover of The Who’s “My Generation” (she’d changed the line “Things they do look awful cold/I hope I die before I get old” to “I don’t need no f**king s**t/I hope I die because of it”), Smith said that that was the thing about rock ’n’ roll: It was total warfare, all the time.
The duality of Horses is that it sounds both deeply steeped in the history of rock—its story, its symbols, its legacy—while also trying to convey the music as though nobody had ever heard it before. So, when she opens her adaptation of Them’s “Gloria” with the line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” it’s to remind you that rock is the sound of heretics who will stake their life against orthodoxy. And when the apocalyptic visions of “Land” give way to the ’60s song “Land of 1,000 Dances,” it’s because teenagers expressing themselves through their bodies is a sacred, radical act. And when “Birdland” winds down with Smith singing doo-wop, it’s because sometimes feelings are so radiant that words fail.
Even at her artiest, Smith doesn’t flinch or distance herself with irony, turning her internal ecstasy outward with a rawness and naiveté that feels daring, unguarded but deadly confident—a trust fall in sound. There are moments when the language soars and the music breaks challenging new ground. But ultimately, Horses doesn’t ask to be understood—it asks only to be felt.