Friday, May 6, 2016

Joni Mitchell 13: Wild Things Run Fast

With few exceptions, any major artist’s “Geffen years” have since been considered not their best. Some of this had to do with musical trends in the early ‘80s, compounded in Elton John’s and Neil Young’s cases by personal turmoil. (John Lennon is another matter altogether.) Don Henley started okay, but would sue David Geffen (again) in time, and most of the label’s acts would move on the first chance they got.
Therefore we approached Joni Mitchell’s Geffen years with some trepidation. She released four albums for the label in the space of ten years, each defined by the sub-era in which they appeared. A common thread is bassist, co-producer and then-husband Larry Klein, so maybe these albums should be considered more the Klein years than the Geffen years.
Some familiar names grace the credits of Wild Things Run Fast, like John Guerin, Larry Carlton and Wayne Shorter, alongside newer, younger guns like Steve Lukather and Vinnie Colaiuta. Add the painted self-portrait, and the listener might expect an easier ride after the experiments of her last couple of albums. But this is the ‘80s, so drums will sound more processed, synthesizers will abound, and the mix will be very, very clean. Thankfully, Joni has never been trendy, so technology does not rule the day.
Just as she once mixed “Centerpiece” into one of her own songs, “Chinese Café” works “Unchained Melody” into the plot as well as the music, making for a lush, minor classic. The most aggressive guitar yet on any of her albums defines the title track, somewhat distracting while she’s harmonizing with herself. “Ladies’ Man” is, as its own title might suggest, more subtle, fitting in with the contemporary jazz of the time. Larry Klein is no Jaco Pastorius, but his bass style on this album, and especially “Moon At The Window”, will remind one’s ear of Hejira. History will also tell us that he’s the inspiration behind “Solid Love”, one of the happiest love songs she’s ever written and recorded.
“Be Cool” sounds like one expects it should, missing only finger snaps in the place of the drums. The big misstep is a cover of “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” that sounds as processed as it can be, with a guitar part designed to appeal to Van Halen fans. The only redeeming factor is the major-seventh chords over the fade. The loud guitars continue on “You Dream Flat Tires”, still a strange sound on a Joni album; the other voice on the track is Lionel Richie, who also isn’t normally associated with fusion. “Man To Man” has many guitar and synth touches similar to the Police influences she said went into the album, and maybe they’re also in “Underneath The Streetlight”. This track’s repeated hook (“Yes I do I love you!”, the exclamation point printed in the lyrics every time) and “Love”, adapted from Corinthians, seal the album’s portrait of Little Joni, happy at last.
Indeed, one must forget about the girl with the guitar and the piano beloved from those first albums, just as she’d demand you would. Wild Things Run Fast takes time, and an open mind to appreciate.

Joni Mitchell Wild Things Run Fast (1982)—3

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