Friday, March 9, 2018

Joni Mitchell 17: Turbulent Indigo

An artist of Joni Mitchell’s stature can be allowed the time and space to work, and a three-year gap had become her norm. But when that gap comes between two albums of such comparative quality, it’s worth the wait. Turbulent Indigo finds Our Heroine back on Reprise Records, where it all started, gently plucking her guitar strings and singing songs both direct and opaque. From time to time, Wayne Shorter flutters in on his soprano sax.
“Sunny Sunday” is a simple sketch of a woman who shoots a gun at a streetlight and always misses, a provoking metaphor. The theme of struggle set, the loudest song on the album—which isn’t saying much—is “Sex Kills”, which manages to skewer pharmaceutical companies, big oil, the gun climate, and just about everything else that’s wrong with society. “How Do You Stop” is a cover of a then-recent James Brown tune, and features Seal on backing vocals (she’d done the same for his album that year too). Somehow it fits perfectly on the album. The title track matches the cover self-portrait of herself with Van Gogh’s bandaged ear, making clear points about artistry. Her voice ably reaches the upper end of her current range on “Last Chance Lost”, a moving rumination on the end of a relationship (which may or may not be her own).
The heartbreak continues on “The Magdalene Laundries”, which refers to the fate of so-called “fallen women” in Ireland, in asylums that existed through even this past century, and by extension condemns the Catholic Church for its complicity. The piano emerges on “Not To Blame”, a timely lament for victims of spousal abuse and worse, which steadily ticks toward a hopeless conclusion. “Borderline” uses clever alliteration and mild wordplay to discuss the conflicts we instigate with each other, followed by another view on difference. A study of a man trying to impress a French girl, “Yvette In English” was written with David Crosby, and first appeared on his own album the year before. Joni’s version is superior, except for the constant repeats of Yvette’s name throughout the track. Finally, “Sire Of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song)” is both the longest track and the closer, but not given epic treatment or any other stature above the rest. Still, its recasting of Job’s arguments with God is mesmerizing, particularly with the “antagonists” in her own multitracked voice mocking her plight.
Turbulent Indigo is a strangely soothing listen, given the subject matter. Not a single track could be considered upbeat, yet it’s a strong statement. And yes, it’s good to have her back.

Joni Mitchell Turbulent Indigo (1994)—

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