Joni Mitchell's in love. At least she was while writing and recording Wild Things Run Fast. You can hear it in the loose and easy nature of her vocal performances and the generally hopeful, positive music and lyrics. Sure Joni makes her usual references to romance's darker sides ("Since love has two faces-Hope and despair/And pleasure always turns to fear" from "Moon at the Window"); more often though, she gets positively giddy ("Yes I do-I love you! I swear by the stars above I do!," from "Underneath the Streetlight") and blissful ("No demands/Just pleasurable sensations/Hand in Hand" from "Man to Man"), but it's been a while since she openly bared her heart in her music.
After Court and Spark ('74), Joni started looking outward rather than inward, and got more daring with her music, sometimes abandoning familiar song forms in favor of unorthodox, experimental jazz pieces especially on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter ('77) and Mingus ('79). This was very engaging stuff, but also often difficult to fathom- unless you sat back and really studied the words and flowed with her curling, sax-like vocals. Hejira ('76) was closer to the ground, filled with hollow-body electric guitar lines over Mitchell's lyrical journeys across dreams and human lives, but there was a certain detachment, more reflection than personal insight. Shadows and Light, Joni's 1980 double live album, served as a coda for this period, with bassist Jaco Pastorius, guitarist Pat Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays, etc. caressing and carroming around Mitchell's vocals. Beautiful sounds, but still, Joni's fans in Peoria were waiting for more "accessible" tunes."
On Wild Things Run Fast, she sails back into striking pop-jazz-rock territory, but without diluting her muse. If anything, she broadens it and uses more of the colors on her musical palette. The title track burns into gear with a blistering Steve Lukather electric guitar rhythm (it's kind of jolting the first time through), then cruises and percolates underneath Joni's swinging vocals. There are clear Court and Spark echoes, her cover of "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" matching the reckless frivolity of "Raised on Robbery," and the chorus in "Solid Love" harks back to "Help Me." There are still plenty of Mitchell jazz strokes on the LP, seductive, personal ones, expertly interpreted by bassist Larry Klein, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, synthesist Larry Williams and drummer Vinnie Calaiuta. "Be Cool" scats along rhythmically with a lazy, Marvin Gaye-esque feel. "Ladies Man" pumps and swirls, with Joni vocalizing a la David Crosby. And on "You Dream Flat Tires" (containing Joni's most obtuse lyrics on the record), criss-crossing dissonances set up a playful, conversational exchange between Mitchell and Lionel Richie.
There is a tremendous quotient of youthful exuberance on this LP. Joni addresses the issues of aging and passage of time with a shrug instead of despair. She recognizes in "Chinese Café" (fused with some lyrics from "Unchained Melody") that "we're middle aged" and "nothing lasts for long"; but she sings the lines without a trace of urgency. She just gets dreamy. And during "Love" (including Biblical passages from Corinthians II:13), Joni examines her emotions of love: "Where as a child I saw it face to face/Now I only know it in part/Fractions in me/Of faith and hope and love/And of those three/Love's the greatest beauty." Ah, Joni may you stay in love forever.
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