Joni Mitchell has given us the slip again. She's gone out and outdone For the Roses, the best LP of 1972 as well as of her career, with her latest masterpiece, Court and Spark (Asylum 7E-1001).
This time we discover that she is still lonely and looking for a lover to, as the aging phrase goes, "court and spark." Her music is maturing as this quest grows more intense and meaningful. She constantly requires new and better ways in which to express herself as earlier efforts to communicate appear to be ineffective. Or as Joni put it in "The Same Situation":
I called out to be released
Caught in my struggle
For higher achievement
And my search for love
That's [sic] don't seem to cease
She takes us through the various feelings and phases of an affair in this cycle of love songs. Never have her compositions been more complex or complete - incorporating some jazz and rock back-ups, extraordinary sound effects and an innovative use of woodwinds, reeds and strings to further compliment the deeply-melodic structures she was developing in For the Roses.
The opening title song draws us in with the lines "Love came to my door/ With a sleeping roll/ And a madman's soul" and the soft accents of the lone piano that swell into other instruments as she realizes he has come "Looking for a woman/ To court and spark."
In the wishful "Help Me," she asks to be saved from falling in love, for she knows that "We love our lovin'/ But not like we love our freedom."
The next song, "Free Man in Paris," opens with a resounding flute passage and an up-beat tune that captures the irresistable [sic] desire to be "unfettered and alive" and to return to a state where the situation is looser and there is less to lose:
I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on
Stoking the star making machinery
Behind the popular song
But you can be lost in yourself, too, as Joni is at "People's Parties," where she feels insecure, observing that "laughter and crying" is "the same release." She wishes that she could also keep "the sadness at bay" by "laughing it all away" (which is sung in a brilliant montage of voices going at varying speeds).
This contemplative tune that features Joni's guitar directly flows into "The Same Situation," a major song in which she questions the staying power of love when she finds "A pretty girl in your bathoom/ Checking out her sex appeal."
The irony of her position is emphasized by the fact that she has to pray to "With heaven full of astronuts [sic]/ And the Lord on death row" and the strings that stress throughout the extent of her longing.
By side two, this relationship is falling apart - Joni's at home waiting for a lover to show up, but she can't see his "Car on the Hill". The unusual sounds at the ending spotlight her confusion and anxiety.
This leads to the moody "Down to You" where she finally recognizes that "Love is gone."
"Just Like This Train" is a sad but wise reminder that she is free again (with the use of flutes echoing "Free Man in Paris"). "Oh sour grapes," she sings, "I've lost my heart."
"Raised on Robbery" is Joni's "Like a Rolling Stone" - an outburst as she takes the offensive in fast and driving rock n' roll. A mysterious introduction that smacks of some indefinable nostalgia suddenly turns into a musical attack (with Robbie Robertson on guitar) as she propositions a man drinking in a lounge with the claim
I'm a pretty good cook
I'm sitting on my groceries
Come up to my kitchen
I'll show you my best recipe
But the satisfaction is temporary at best, and she's back at the beginning again in "Trouble Child," the best song of the album, with "another dream over the dam":
You really have no one
Only a river of changing faces
Looking for an ocean
She knows she has got to change once more - and "that's not easy." She's left in an empty embrace like the waves breaking at Malibu.
"Twisted," the first song she has ever recorded that she hasn't written herself, is a take-off on this child theme, but it's done just for fun with a jazzy back-up, the help of Cheech and Chong, and some of Joni's most expressive singing ever.
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