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Playful Aggression   Print

by Neil McCormick
Daily Telegraph
September 28, 1998

Female singer-songwriters have never been in greater demand - or supply, for that matter. So it's nice to welcome back, after a four year absence, the original and, indeed, the greatest of them all to show everybody how it should be done.

The opening of "Lead Balloon" (""Kiss my ass," I said/ And threw my drink") suggests Mitchell may even have taken on board some of the post-Alanis Morisette feminist aggression, but the pay off ("Must be the Irish blood/Fight before you think") reveals that she's just being playful.

There's a similarly light mood to most of these tracks. It may be that one of the reasons Mitchell has never achieved the mythological status of her most obvious male contempory, Bob Dylan, is due to her preference for detailed miniatures over grand statements. Her only state-of -the -nation address comes on "No Apologies" ("What happened to this place?/ Lawyers and loan sharks/ Are laying America to waste").

Of course, another reason Mitchell has never been seen as a rock goddess is because she is not a rocker at all. Her jazzy oeuvre, boasting rhythms and melodies as sophisticated as her wordmanship, is probably too subtle and complex for mass consumption. She builds these tracks around gentle surges of rhythm with her soft-toned acoustic guitar to the fore and her vocals laying emphasis in unexpected places.

It is amusing to speculate how immediate and powerful some of these songs could be in the hands of a rapper, but the title track, on which Mitchell describes herself as "a runaway from the record biz", makes it clear she's disillusioned with the whole game: "The radio blared so bland/ Every disc a poker chip/ Every song just a one-night stand/Formula music, girlie guile/ Genuine junkfood for juveniles...it's hip! Its hot/ Life's too short". That's telling them Joni. "

 

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