Joni Mitchell's new album For the Roses creates a poignant picture of modern life, especially those aspects touching the experience of a woman and a musical performer. Many of her songs are intensely personal, reflecting a struggle for strength and independence as well as for love and beauty. The flowing imagery of her lyrics constructs this world, and the musical settings fill the portrait out.
It is perhaps needless to say much about the music itself - Joni Mitchell's tunes are generally unconventional and uncatchy melodies which serve as a delicate vehicle for the rich lyrics. She has taste enough to keep the arrangements simple, to let the poetry shine through; usually a guitar or a piano carries the music, with drums and a bass guitar occasionally and light accents of woodwinds and reeds as she sings with a clear, high precision. Although she sometimes rushes and stuffs the lyrics into her tunes, these lines are still better sung than read, for the music somehow serves as a manipulator of moods, setting the tone and imposing a speed and emphasis upon the words.
A social comment, sometimes bitter, sometimes satirical, is expressed in the first songs on the album. "Barangrill" mocks the American lifestyle with wry humor in lines like "The guy at the gaspumps/He's got a lot of soul/He sings Merry Christmas for you/Just like Nat King Cole." "Banquet" hits a little harder, with its cry against poverty in the midst of prosperity, where "Some get the gravy/And some get the gristle/Some get the marrow bone/And some get nothing/Though there's plenty to spare."
Most of the rest of the songs on the album, however, are torn out of Ms. Mitchell's own life experiences. As a musician, she can sympathize with the rock and roll singer in "Blonde in the Bleachers" to whom "it seems like you've gotta give up/Such a piece of your soul." Her cure, in "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)" is to "Strike every chord that you feel" even though "The gift goes on/In silence/In a bell jar/Still a song." The title song "For the Roses" compares "the days when you used to sit/And make up your tunes for love/And pour your simple sorrow/To the soundhole and your knee" to the present, when "Your name's in the news/Everything's first class - /The lights go down - /And it's just you up there/Getting them to feel like that."
But the special situation of a woman in this world seems to concern her even more. "You know I'm not after/A piece of your fortune/And your fame/'Cause I've tasted mine" she explains in "See You Sometime," where she celebrates her independence - "I run in the woods/I spring from the boulders/Like a Mama lion." The attractions of home and security are admitted to in "Let the Wind Carry Me," when she says "Sometimes I get that feeling/And I want to settle/And raise a child up with somebody...But it passes like the summer/I'm a wild seed again."
The most heartfelt statement of a woman's situation is the song "Woman of Heart and Mind." Here she rages against a man who dares to "think I'm like your mother/Or another lover or your sister/Or the queen of your dreams/Or just another silly girl/When love makes a fool of me." She does need love, but not on the man's terms - "I'm looking for affection and respect/A little passion/And you want stimulation - nothing more."
In "Electricity," where the two electrical charges represent man (Minus) and woman (Plus), love "conducts little charges/That don't get charged back," except for the times when "The lines overloaded/And the sparks started flying." Either way, Joni Mitchell seems to see that peace can only be found by being "Out of touch with the breakdown/Of this century." Yet she cannot find that peace, for she still feels acutely the loneliness of the American dream and particularly the fetters of being a woman.
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Added to Library on February 6, 2019. ( 1,719)
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