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Still Hard   Print

by Stuart Maconie
Q
October 1998

She's not getting any younger. She's not getting any dafter either.

JONI MITCHELL, Let's see: born 1943, christened Roberta Joan Anderson, equine grande dame of American song, always enjoyed a glowing establishment consensus, and so forth. Well, actually not so. In 1975, Rolling Stone, in a fit of blather that makes Richard Littlejohn seem shrewd, denounced The Hissing of Summer Lawns, now routinely rated a classic, as worst record of the year. In a music scene dominated by Lester Bangs, Lou Reed's Rock 'n' Roll Animal and The Tubes, only the bravest gave their vote to the angular bohemian hi-tec jazz balladry that's dominated her oeuvre ever since.

The wing-collared shirts were out in force though in 1994 to shower Grammies on her last album, Turbulent Indigo. Taming Th Tiger finds her in better form. Jazz still exerts a shaping influence but there are other less easily categorised forces at work. Witness the introduction to Harlem In Havana where a reassuringly elegant tune emerges from dislocated noises.

Lyrically, she's as skilled as ever, although even Mitchell can make too many allusions to cafes, saxophones and raincoats. Lead Balloon's choicest couplet, 'An angry man is just an angry man, but an angry woman is a bitch' is just the rueful side of hectoring. Moans about the music biz from insiders are rarely essential, but the title track is better than similar efforts as it correctly identifies the 'whining white kids' of modern American music. Facelift, smouldering with righteous anger and sadness, finds a daughter telling a parent that 'happiness is the best facelift'.

Top-flight chums abound - Wayne Shorter, ex-boyfriend Larry Klein etc - but the sound has a pleasing unity, its most notable feature being attractive guitar washes a la Daniel Lanois and Vini Reilly framed in Mitchell's unfathomable tunings as showcased in the pointlessly hidden instrumental Tiger Bones. She's never sung better either, the clear and precise enunciations now gone nicely husky, so she sounds like Elvis Costello's worldly older sister.

Mitchell continues to grow old without growing soft. This is tasteful and distinctive stuff but clearly a bespoke product for grown-ups. A 15 year-old is as likely to possess it as they are a camel-hair overcoat. Marketing men have to worry about that stuff. Joni Mitchell doesn't. FOUR STARS.

Standout tracks: Love Puts On A New Face, Facelift, Man From Mars.

Like This? Try these: Joan Baez: Diamonds & Rust; Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates; Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels On A Dirt Road

 

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