Joni Mitchell: Taming the Tiger (Warners)

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Joni Mitchell: Taming the Tiger (Warners)

Joni Mitchell recently said she was so tired of being pitted against any "new Joni" woman singer who came along that she seriously considered retirement and devoting time to her painting (which has become very twee, if those works included in the booklet here are anything to go by).

It's not promising, then, to read that the song which got her back on track was about her cat, which went missing after she tossed it out of the house.

That song, Man from Mars, is here early on -- and it's much better than its origins suggest. Typical of Mitchell, the mundane matter is elevated into an emotional address on the idea of loss.

Much of Taming the Tiger is story-telling: Love Puts on a New Face is a narrative between a man and a woman to illustrate the gap between the needs of the genders; the title track has sanctimonious swipes at "whiny white kids" making rock'n'roll today and "formula music/girlie guile" on her radio; Face Lift is a seemingly autobiographical account of a Christmas Day argument with her mother about living with her new partner "shacked up downtown/making love without a license"; and Stay in Touch appears an open letter to Kilauren, the daughter she adopted out 35 years ago and was recently reunited with.

Yet in each she pushes into the allegorical, widening the scope into the universal and pulling tangential issues into the viewfinder. And all this is wrapped up in that quasi-jazz from longtime collaborator saxophonist Wayne Shorter and her own brittle or tonal colour guitar playing on her newly acquired guitar synth.

However, where Mitchell once wrote with a light touch, here she can be unpoetically literal, the music sounding pasted around the periphery.

It's possible to feel emotionally detached to demotic, bludgeoning lyrics which run, for example, "in these tough times as drug lords buy up the banks and warlords radiate the oceans, ecosystems fail."

Mitchell sounds grumpy, middle-aged and not a little weary and impatient with parts of her world, be they personal or political. Maybe in that she's still capturing the mood of her generation? If so, it's a pity.


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