Monday, December 8, 2014

Joni Mitchell - Both Sides

The 80s were hard on the 70s.  Pink Floyd squeaked The Wall under the wire and then, deservedly, The Final Cut was (thankfully).  For Joni Mitchell, the transfer over to Geffen and into an electronic age was a disaster.  Only one song survives, the nostalgic "Chinese Cafe," and it from her only truly listenable venture until Night Ride HomeWild Things Run Fast (AM 4) is like a Mingus in which Mitchell wrote the music as well; same melodics, same harmonics, and a band that others would kill for (including husband, Larry Klein, Steve Lukather, Wayne Shorter, Victor Feldman and John Guerin).  Dog Eat Dog (AM2) is really just terrible and Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm (AM3) only palatable due to its guest artists (Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Don Henley and Willie Nelson). The 80s were EDM and big hair and Joni simply didn't fit in.  Fame, Joni is quoted as saying, is a "Glorious Misunderstanding."

The 90s were gentler, kinder, duller; new age replaced new wave and Seattle replaced London and NYC.  Joni found a place again with an album that fits more evenly into the essential canon than Mingus: Night Ride Home (AM7). Joni started smoking before she was ten years old. Of it she said, "Everyone should be forced to smoke." Rarely seen without a cigarette, the habit would prove a vocal stranglehold. By Night Ride Home it was a whole different Joni. It wasn't maturity, what we'd experienced with Kate Bush, it was a bad habit, though one that worked out. "Come In From the Cold" and "Cherokee Louise" show it off, and this husky contralto would carry on through Turbulent Indigo (AM5), Travelogue (AM5) and 1998's Taming the Tiger (AM6).
"One Week Last Summer" deservedly won the Grammy for Best Instrumental on 2007's Shine (AM6), sounding like something off a new millennium Pet Sounds.  Otherwise a palatable album and fitting finale (?) to her folio, yet it suffers from the preachy. It's about capitalism (bad), war (bad), pollution (bad), then again, it's set against a pedal steal and some of the finest, and simplest, least experimental, musical backgrounds since For the Roses.

Maybe it's not fair to critique Joni's later work against the first ten years. Her mature works are consistently judged like a middle child against the successes of the first, but once you see the old woman in the optical illusion, you can no longer only see the pretty girl.

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