ALBUM OF THE WEEK JONI MITCHELL: SHINE (Hear Music)
WHEN Joni Mitchell released her last album back in 2002, she was convinced that her days as a musician were at an end. So disgusted was she with music and the music industry that she decided to put down her guitar, close her piano and put it all behind her.
"The music business no longer interested me, " she says. "I didn't like the direction it was going. I didn't feel like I fitted any more. I couldn't think of a theme I wanted to sing about. . . so, I thought, I'm finished." For the woman who perhaps more than any other had transformed what it meant to be a singer-songwriter, this was a drastic step. Although she's always hated the moniker (with some justification), there was a reason she was called "the female Bob Dylan".
Back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, her confessional-style songwriting, unique guitar-playing and inventive melodies set the benchmark for every singer-songwriter who would pick up a guitar from there on in. Her 1971 album Blue not only still ranks high in polls of alltime great albums but is one of the albums many musicians say changed their lives.
So it's little surprise that, despite her determination to retire, back in 2005 she started to write again. The end result is this album which, although far from perfect, still has plenty of that inspiring Mitchell spark.
Although it's not technically a concept album, similar themes pop up through most of the songs: the environment and its destruction, the devastating effects of anger, hatred and violence and the hope that somehow things will improve.
Like Joni says, this is "as serious a work as I've ever done". That may be true, but it doesn't always make it a great listen.
There are too many tracks here that sound more like good ideas than actually fully-formed songs; particularly the epic Strong And Wrong and the title track Shine. When the tunes work, however, it's pretty special. Night Of The Iguana has a welcome Latin feel, while her reworked near-Cajun take on her classic Big Yellow Taxi is both brilliant and understated.
It's not a perfect album but there's still enough here to have made her move out of retirement worthwhile.