Joni Mitchell – The Later Years
Joni changed direction, quite suddenly in my opinion, in the Eighties. She also changed record company and boyfriend – Larry Klein (another bass player) also became her producer. And all to the detriment of her great talent. Not that the records were poor – by anyone else’s standards they were fine – but this was Joni of Blue and Court and Spark. Anyway, I continued buying her records, hoping for a return to her earlier style – but the curse of the Eighties affected her, like it did so many other. Her first ‘new’ album was Wild Things Run Free (1982) and it was a great disappointment. Joni seemed to be trying too hard to be relevant and modern and ‘rock and roll’, even including a (not too bad) version of the old standard ‘You’re So Square’ Best are opener ‘Chinese Café’ and ‘Underneath the Streetlamp’ – but really even these would be the poorest on er earlier records. Better was Dog Eat Dog (1985) – where she enlisted Thomas Dolby (see D) to add new sounds and dubbing to her voice. The results are a bit mixed to be hones, but this is also by far Joni’s most political album, and I like it for that as much as the sound which almost grates at times. Best songs are ‘Fiction’, ‘Impossible Dreamer’ and ‘best of all ‘The Three Great Stimulants’ (one of the few that would deserve to be on a Greatest Hits album). Chalk Marks In A Rainstorm (1988) was another disappointment; a mediocre attempt spoiled by her attempts at duets with Peter Gabriel and Willy Nelson among others. It just didn’t work for me. The album is only redeemed by a couple of tracks where her voice predominates and something like her signature sound emerges – ‘Cool Water’ and ‘The Beat Of Black Wings’. Overall, the sound is too smooth, too laidback, almost too middle of the road for me. Oh Well. I was beginning to lose faith in my Joni but gave her one last try. Night Ride Home came out in 1991, a darker sounding record – after almost a decade of attempting to sound cool Joni made a fairly simple album led mostly by her guitar and voice – the jazzy arrangements subtle and down in the mix allowing Joni herself to return. But of course, it was the songs which were better too; you could hear and remember the words and you felt they meant something. At last, a return to normality. Best are ‘Cherokee Louise’, ‘Come In From The Cold’ and the title track. 3 years later and the quality was there again in Turbulent Indigo – an album with a cover painting of Joni with a bandaged ear based on a self-portrait by Van Gogh. Almost every song is great and approaching her mid 70’s brilliance. The voice is darker and deeper and her guitar playing dominates as she angrily condemns the current obsession with Sex in Capitalism in ‘Sex Kills’. She sings of the terrible injustices of the Catholic Church in possibly the best song on the album ‘The Magdalene Laundries’ and ‘Borderline’ evinces both her and Van Gogh’s borderline mental issues, especially around their creativity. I also like ‘Yvette in English’ – a song she wrote with her old lover from the 60’s, David Crosby (see C). The final song ‘The Sire Of Sorrow’ is subtitled Jobs Sad Song and is hauntingly beautiful and sad. In fact, sadness permeates the record’ a world weariness, a mature looking at the world which I find I share too. 1998 saw the release of Taming The Tiger, which for a while seemed to be her last album of original songs (wrong, as it turned out) not quite as good as its two predecessors but quite a good record all the same. The songs though seem a bit rambling and without much focus. Best are ‘Love Puts On A new Face’ and ‘The Crazy Cries Of Love’. Not that Joni was finished – but she decided to record an album of love songs, most by older writers (except her own ‘A Case Of You’ and the title track). Sung with a jazz-inflected orchestra, Both Sides Now (2000) is a sumptuous journey through the stages of a love affair from first sight, infatuation to disillusionment. I really like it and Joni does the older songs really well. Best are ’Come Love’ and ‘Stormy Weather. She followed this with a double retrospective Travelogue– re-recording many of her songs with the same jazzy orchestral arrangements. Although a pleasant album I tend to prefer the original recordings, which may simply be familiarity – though ‘Man Is The Sire Of Constant Sorrow’ is spectacularly good. The last album by Joni was ‘Shine’ (2007). And so far, I haven’t really taken to it. It is sparse and piano-led, but it is the songs I cannot really relate to – don’t know why, but her old albums are like old friends and this just doesn’t seem to fit. Her voice sounds tired and there is a lack of enthusiasm there. But there you go…..