Thursday, October 29, 2020

Joni Mitchell - For the Roses

Joni went home after Blue; not California: Canada, and the result, For the Roses (AM8), was like Court and Spark practice; multi-layered madness, crazy harmonies and a myriad of Jonis. Her voice hadn't matured, it succumbed instead to cigarettes, and if chain-smoking ever did anyone justice, well it was us. Side one continues Joni's pre-70s groove, vacillating from love song to social observation with several truly topical pieces.  One in particular "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire," describes so beautifully heroin addiction, growing in prevalence in the So. Cal. scene and part of the reason Joni took refuge in Saskatoon (more on it in a moment).  Side one essentially starts off where Blue ended. The album opener, "Banquet," is a song that uses a dinner table as a metaphor for the world Joni experienced: "Some get the gravy, and some get the gristle...And some get nothing, though there's plenty to spare." It's just Joni and her piano. Angry chords force her point of the greedy world we live in. This is followed by the aforementioned  (and superb) "Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire." This chilling song details the life of a heroin addict, the inescapable insatiability and desperation for the drug-fix. The imagery created from these lyrics is dark, sharp and gleaming: "Come with me, I know the way," she sings, "It's down, down, down, the dark ladder." The reeds fill the song with an airy, meditative atmosphere, while Joni's vocal delivery is so sensual and the melody so lovely. "Barangrill" provides a much-needed respite while very much in-theme with the tense, tight nature of the album overall. "Lesson In Survival" is the first love song of the album, about what is always new, the longing and need for love: "I'm gonna get a boat, and we can row it, if you ever get the notion, to be needed by me." 

On side two we even get a hit and some radio play, ironically, in "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," a song in which it became obvious that Joni would shirk song structure for good, but it's an altogether new magic we find in "See You Sometime" and "Electricity." This is our first glimpse of the inimitable Joni. "Blonde in the Bleachers" is the best song ever written about a rock star on the road. "It seems like you've got to give up such a piece of your soul when you give up the chase," she sings, about finding identity in oneself and meaning in whomever one fucks. The songs weren't protest, they were reflection, instead, allowing the listener to determine the politicism rather than pounding her over the head with it.  The album's standout, particularly in this vein, is "Woman of Heart and Mind:" "Drive your bargains, push your papers, win your medals, fuck your strangers; don't it leave you on the empty side?"  It isn't protest, it's a call-out, and so much more effective because of it.

For the Roses is a gorgeous musical tapestry that epitomizes the best of Mitchell's poetic prowess and musical genius. It comes into your life and weaves itself firmly into your fabric. It is a testament to the days when albums were listened to from start to finish; each song a stopping-point on a musical journey. After the ultra confessional Blue, Joni found it
hard to move forward and holed herself up in a Canadian cabin for more than a year. For the Roses shows her sorting out the confused and bleeding emotions she felt at the time. The result, another brilliant masterwork with all of the inner pain of "Blue"