Joni Mitchell’s first album of new compositions in almost a decade is inspired by, of all things, fighting. Drawing on the Iraq war and something her grandson had said while listening to a family argument, “Bad dreams are good in the great plan.” she took this “inspiration” and focused on political and environmental issues, Joni tried to once again open the world’s eyes in a way more maternal than ever before.
Beginning with the gorgeous, “One Week Last Summer,” an instrumental that plays like the opening score to a new day dawning and has a reverent beauty and timelessness to it that reflects the composer’s newly found passion to record again. This sets the table and mood for the rest of the record’s emotional message of appreciation for what we all have, but, more importantly, what we all should be doing to make sure that we protect it for the generations that follow. “This Place” — a song about protecting your home and ultimately the Earth from invading technology and unwanted growth — exemplifies that realization in this reflective lyric: “when I get to heaven, if it is not like this/ I’ll just hop a cloud and I’m coming right back down here/ back to this heavenly bliss.” “If I Had A Heart” is most effective with its disingenuous message of detachment leaving the listener to wallow in their own inescapable guilt caused by years of apathy and indifference. Recently quoted as saying, “My heart is broken in the face of the stupidity of my species. I can’t cry about it. In a way I’m inoculated. I’ve suffered this pain for so long. The West has packed the whole world on a runaway train. We are on the road to extincting ourselves as a species.” Joni’s long legacy of care for the planet betrays the false insouciance contained in the songs lyric but it does make you wonder that if someone like Joni can reach the end of her humanitarian rope then what hope do the rest of us have? “Bad Dreams,” inspired by her grandson’s quote, tells of how such dreams may help us to learn from and overcome our fears and universal adversities. “Strong And Wrong” could be a handwritten plea to the warmongering leaders of our past, present and the uncertain future. The clever inclusion of an updated version of her hit “Big Yellow Taxi” fits right alongside with it’s “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” mantra about paving over paradise and the regret the day after brings. But this is not a completely thematic record and songs like “Hana” and “Night of the Iguana” stand on their own. They are as strong as any song recorded by Joni in the past complete with her trademark characters full of strength, compassion and human resolve. The title track, “Shine” is glorious in its blind faith; it’s a Sunday school song anointing all things right and wrong with our planet. You don’t have to be addicted to the world news to relate to the wonderful line “Shine on world-wide traffic jams, honking day and night/ Shine on another asshole, passing on the right.” “If” closes out the album with Joni’s take on a Rudyard Kipling poem. Written originally in a soldier’s perspective she wanted to “get the feminine principle into the poetry” so a few lines were modified to accommodate this inspired re-working.
Back in 2000 Joni was quoted as saying “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance.” referring to her first love and critically acclaimed “second career” as an artist. Well, Van Gogh and Gauguin may have been some of Joni’s artistic influences but on this seriously dark and introspective collection she brings up more valid points than any painting by Seurat.
Joni Mitchell: www.jonimitchell.com