So the new Joni Mitchell album Shine came out last week. Given the bitter, raving idealist she’s become in recent public interviews, my expectations were not terribly high. They even did a press-release style YouTube video for the album with her commentary, and in the same breath she manages to rail against corporate hegemony, and then thank Starbucks — Starbucks — for handling the album’s release and promotion. I hate it when people I admire so fervently make me wince so hard.
The mere fact that she’s releasing it through Starbucks — the same way that false musical messiah Paul McCartney dropped his latest craphole of a record — makes me a little queasy. I am also slightly annoyed — though hardly surprised — that his album received buckets more of attention, despite not being any better.
Even more than that, it makes me sad that the first exposure that a whole slough of young barristas are going to have to the most influential female musician of the last century will be having an unusually shitty album forced upon them over the Muzak system 100 times per shift. I won’t blame them if they’re not particularly eager to dig into her seminal 70’s stuff after this.
But so of course I dropped by the PSU Starbucks on Tuesday to purchase it. How could I not?
It’s weird how hearing something you dislike can so rapidly draw all of the attributes about something you do like into sharp relief. I’ve never been able to really explain why I liked Mitchell’s lyrics so much. But hearing the lyrics on this CD, it’s super easy to define what was present on previous albums that’s absent here:
It’s the careful little observations she makes about her subjects. It’s how she can be singing about an object of love or revulsion, and no matter what she still manages to give enough empirical, unbiased attention to it that she can uncover something that you either missed or didn’t fully understand. It’s the details she includes when describing something that are superficially irrelevant, but her inclusion of them makes all the difference in your perception. It’s lines like “He makes friends easy — he’s not like me; I watch for judgment anxiously,” which describes my social demeanor to a fault plus end rhyme! It is, as a reviewer on Amazon put it, “…moments where the specificity of images meets the vagary of the instrumental arrangements,” which is something I’ve been trying to put into words since forever.
Anyway, Shine is empty of any of that stuff that make the songs from her glory days so great to listen to. Here, she’s dissilusioned about everything to the point where she can do nothing more than generalize. The objects of her disdain are trite and vague. The environment, war, consumer culture, la-de-da. Nothing new to say about any of it. The assertions she makes about this stuff aren’t particularly melodic, either. Neither, for that matter, are the melodies. Her musical awesomeness has mostly waned since the 80’s, and it’s hit a new low point here. The only track that really stands out is the completely instrumental One Week Last Summer, which reminds me of the openings to a whole bunch of her other songs.
But so the good news is that the crappyness of a million Shines couldn’t undo the joy of one Hejira. She can make blah albums until she dies, and I’ll still be grateful to her for the experience of driving to nowhere, listening to Amelia, and forgetting everything beyond the edges of the windshield.