Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell retired from creating new music several years ago. Lately, though, it’s like she never left, with these two thoughtful, remarkably consistent compilation records. Both are good samples, and there is no duplication of songs between the two records.
“The Beginning of Survival” is meant as a pointed political statement, a 2004 protest record written in the ’80s and ’90s. On one hand, the tick-tock rhythms and cheezy synths date it. On the other hand, the subjects of the songs are relevant. Joni wasn’t psychic, just perceptive and this record’s views on consumerism, religion, war and the environment are strong statements. Several songs — the epic “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” the stinging “Sex Kills,” the intense “Magdalene Laundries” — deserve to be a part of her greatest hits, while it’s curious that tuneful, of-the-time songs such as “The Windfall,” “Fiction” and “Impossible Dreamer” weren’t hits in the ’80s. Ageism? Sexism? Scary subject matter? Well, no matter — “Survival” goes a long way toward rehabbing Mitchell’s least known period.
“Dreamland” takes the career-overview approach, but does it in a way that’s unexpected. Way out of chronological order, the CD starts with the still breezy “Free Man in Paris.” From there, it’s a balance of expected hits (“Carey,” “Big Yellow Taxi”) and lesser-knowns. It’s those that stand up the best, including the brooding “Furry Sings the Blues” and the vocal-and-percussion masterpiece “Dreamland.”
The back-half falters somewhat with some of her lesser ’80s pop, but it does pick the best three examples of her recent work with an orchestra (this version of “Amelia” is the definitive one, and her recasting of “Both Sides Now” is flat-out genius).
And she’s a great painter too, as attested by the great packaging.
Critical rating for both: 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Recommended If You Like: Sting in the 1980s, Thomas Dolby (regarding “Survival”), Neil Young, Norah Jones (regarding “Dreamland”)