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Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark Print-ready version

by Merril Greene
Choragos (Mount Holyoke College)
April 18, 1974
Original article: PDF

The difficulty in speaking of Joni Mitchell's music is that her work seems only relative to itself. It is the exception to the rule, the instance that perplexes and humbles an otherwise ready critic. Its membership in the genre of popular music is tenuous - that is fact, indisputably and happily so.

Her music has grown and I say this without the pejorative connotations if [ed: of?] out-sized sophistication or creative fatigue. I do mean that she has found her way out of the exclusiveness of personal confessional lyrics and now seems capable of a rounder, fuller expression; the compromise does not reduce either component - the personal and the popularly comprehensible imagism in the lyrics now are mutually strengthened by the fact of their co-existence.

Joni Mitchell possesses the extraordinary ability to make lyric and music, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable; in most popular music, the antiquarian separation (in many cases, even alienation) of form from content is denied consciously and indefatigably. Both are mutually inclusive, the processes of creating both are intertwined, bonded as in a chemical reaction. But the science, here, is the science of alchemy and magic, where lead is turned to gold.

Akin to the sensibilities involved in writing a viable opera, where the spoken line must sound as if it can only properly be understood if it is sung. Joni Mitchell writes songs filled with dialogue that sounds right when it's spoken, but makes more sense, in the purest meaning of that word, when she sings it. She now has the firmest grip on her metaphors, when she chooses to use them, and can, without losing sight of object or goal, put them through a complex and subtle series of transformations that reveal the intended multiplicity of meanings. She forgoes the smugness of creating coyly kept meaning secrets and instead allows a careful listener the delight and satisfaction of relishing each turn and fluxuation [sic] planted so carefully in her musical substance.

That Court and Spark is so solidly a work of art, without the customary concessions to a prospective mass audience, that none of the intelligence is bled from it, that it is performed and orchestrated with the generally unidealistic goal of perfection, which is, as near as humanly, possible, reached, is enough to confirm not only my pleasure, but the absolute artistic necessity of Joni Mitchell's musical existence.

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