Many critics are quick to point out the irony of Joni Mitchell both maintaining her protest against the music industry's superficiality and signing onto a label managed by Starbucks. However, they are overlooking what she hoped to present in her new work: a complete album, packaged carefully, to be unwrapped and listened to as a whole. For this reason, I went to Starbucks and actually bought the CD (which can only be purchased in the store or online). The inserts accompany the music in the pensive, pleasing first impression they provide, framing startlingly confrontational lyrics like, If I only had a heart, I'd cry. Most people only think of Mitchell as the guitar-strumming folkie that she was in the late '60s, but her music has been moving through several phases since the mid-'70s, and Shine sums up some of the best elements of each. The jazzy delivery and instrumentation of her late-'70s experimental period blends with the rich orchestrations of her recent standards albums and tactfully employs the vocal dubbing that was often overwhelming in her '80s and '90s work. Maybe she can't reach for the high notes anymore, but it does allow her to sink deeply into a strong lower register.
The album starts with an instrumental piece inspired by the return of her inspiration. Most of the songs here are toned-down and never stray from bass piano notes, but she breaks this pattern occasionally to great effect, using biting electric-guitar chords to demonstrate life's hardship on Hana. A jumpy, even slightly-confusing reprise of Big Yellow Taxi suddenly appears in the middle of the affair and is probably the one song she could have left out. It doesn't throw off the focus of the album, though, and she closes by setting a Kipling poem to a strong arrangement. And all the while she's reminding the svelte middle-aged women buying her album in Starbucks about the destruction they're causing to the planet. This is one of Mitchell's best albums in years, musically accessible yet scathing in its reproachful lyrics about our passive environmentalism.
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