Joni Mitchell struggles more than ever before on "Taming the Tiger", a darkly brilliant but unsettling album that documents this great artist's restless search for emotional resolution in middle age.
Far less accessible than her previous two albums, "Taming the Tiger" is at first listen, cold and eerie with dueling musical personalities. The rewards from this album come only after repeated listenings. At times, the music is electronically dense and cluttered and the messages are loaded with resentment. At other times, Mitchell is capable of delivering velvety beauty, as on "Man From Mars", a polished jazz piece that provides a haunting look at how death separates love.
Obviously frustrated that the songs that made her famous are her least complex and innovative ones, Mitchell registers strong disdain for the music industry on the title song, calling herself a "runaway from the record biz" as she sneers at today's "whiny white kids" on the radio. (Maybe Mitchell's brief summer tour with well-known music industry hater Van Morrison stoked the anger.)
"Taming the Tiger" breaks no new stylistic ground for Mitchell. The music falls into three very expected categories - electronically driven tracks like those heard before on 1985"s "Dog Eat Dog" album; the simplistic, reverb-drenched guitar tracks like those from 1991's "Night Ride Home"; and the satiny jazz blends found on countless Mitchell albums since the mid-'70's. But even though the flavors have been served before, Mitchell manages to keep them alluring.
Though hardly a dinner party record, Mitchell's troubled journey on "Taming the Tiger" is an admirable one that few of us are willing to face head on - how do we deal with the great success and acceptance of others, or ambivalent feelings about our parents, or the sense of impending loss that comes with middle age? "Taming the Tiger" naggingly reminds the listener that the great art isn't always about escapist entertainment.