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Welcome Back Joni,
This review is from: Shine (Audio CD)
Shine is the long awaited Joni Mitchell LP. In terms of anticipating what was to come from Joni, there is one surprise. The surprise is that on this LP there is no inward looking at self. Instead, Joni turns her attention to the environment, the misuse of science, the politics of selfishness, and domination through war. With only ten tracks on the LP, it was bound to be an ambitious task to address these huge issues satisfactorily.
The stance that Joni is going to take towards the themes of the LP is set out from the beginning with the 4 minutes and 58 seconds instrumental piece, "One Week Last Summer". In a brief explanation of the inspiration behind the piece Joni, in an oblique manner, outlines her stance on the the themes the LP raises. But this is not to suggest that there are hiden aims on this LP. On the contrary, in the main Joni is direct and to the point. She is critical of modern society and this is nowhere more telling than in "Bad Dreams". In this song Joni delivers some harsh words - for example, "The cell phone zombies babble/Through the shopping malls/While condors fall from Indian skies/Whales beach and die in the sand".
The suggestion that the songs on this LP represents Joni's stance about the environment is underpinned by the fact that Joni does a lot on the LP. The music is composed, arranged and produced by her. The lyrics are composed by her except for "If" and she plays many of the instruments. One could not help but wonder if Joni was showing off her considerable talents or keeping down production costs.
Certainly, Joni's talents extend to ambitious daring. The reprise of "Big Yellow Taxi" on this LP is quite apt. It fits in with Joni's evironmental concerns. It was also quite visionary and appropriate to end the LP with the setting of Rudyard Kipling's "If" to music. Here it seems to me that Joni attempts to deliver a message to each of us about the standard of behaviour that is expected.
Nonetheless, Joni's extensive involvement in producing this LP does not detract from the contribution of the small ensemble of muscians who produce a rich mixture of sound. Greg Leisz pedal steel gives a subtle country feel to many of the tracks such as "This Place" and "If I had a Heart". Then there is the melodious sweet sound of Bob Sheppard's soprano saxophone which is very prominient on "Hana". The percussive sounds of Brian Blade, Larry Klein and Paulinho DaCosta connect this LP to some of Joni's past LPs such as the "Hissing of Summer Lawns".
The message of this LP is timely and important but I cannot say that it gripped me. The reason is quite simply that Joni's lyrics are not as powerful as they once were. On some of Joni's previous LPs the lyrics were quite arresting. I would replay tracks asking myself what was that saying.
The lyrics also lack the sophistication of some of Joni's great songs. For example, lines from the title track "Hejira" from the 1976 LP, such as: "Well I looked at granite marker/Those tributes to finality - to eternity/And then I looked at myself here/Chicken scratching for my immortality". On this LP the lyrics are more direct and straight to the point. This is nowhere more in evidence than on the title track "Shine". This I suppose is to be expected given the main concerns of the LP.
The delivery of the songs suggests that the range and reach of Joni's voice is now fixed in the lower register but this is not a criticism rather it is just a mark of passing time.
For me "Shine" does not rank among Joni's great LPs but nonetheless it is a refreshing return by Joni Mitchell to the popular music scene that is lacking great talent. If you are a Joni Mitchell fan, as I am, you will most likely enjoy this LP. However, if you are coming to Joni's music for the first time then you will have to be patient in getting to appreciate it.