Friday, June 22, 2007

No. 30: Blue

Band: Joni Mitchell
Album: Blue
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Like "Plastic Ono Band," Joni Mitchell's landmark record is strikingly confessional and a cornerstone of '70s songwriting.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Wow, Joni Mitchell's voice is bad.
Best song: "A Case of You" is a pretty amazing song.
Worst song: "California" doesn't float my boat.
Is it awesome?: I'd say no.

I guess I'm not getting something with "Blue." The female singer/songwriter with which I'm the most familiar is entirely different from this record. There are the indie songstresses who whisper (Tara Jane O'Neil, Julie Doiron, etc.), the angrier punkish women (Liz Phair), the middle of the road nonsense/Lilith Fair types (Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Lisa Loeb, etc.) or the damaged women who sand confessionals about things that make men extremely uncomfortable (Fiona Apple and Tori Amos come to mind). Mitchell is somewhere between the Lilith Fair types and the damaged, and her voice is so high-pitched and whiny, it's tough to get into the songs.

I tend to love female singers. I'd sign up to listen to Chan Marshall read the phone book. But, Mitchell's voice just isn't attractive to me on the more passionate vocal performances on the record. The "When are you gonna realize they're only pretty lies" portion of "The Last Time I Saw Richard" sound like Mitchell is trying to scare small animals. Similarly, I would love the references to Canada (I like Canada) in "A Case of You" are so high pitched, I needed to turn down the volume in my headphones while listening, out of fear of busting my eardrums.

But, again, the writing is interesting, if not fantastic. The overarching themes of loneliness and damage are thoughtful and honest. "Little Green" is written about a child Mitchell gave up for adoption, while the title track is one of hope and advice given to a friend (in this case, musician James Taylor).

Is it my favorite thing ever to come out? Surely not. I imagine it had some level of influence. I just don't love it. I'm clearly missing something.


One final note, from Mitchell herself. She said the following in a 1979 Rolling Stone interview:

"At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world, and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy."

Again, I respect that honesty, but that doesn't mean it's the 30th best album ever.

1 comment:

bob_vinyl said...

I've lightened up on Joni Mitchell quite a bit over the last few years. She's still done plenty of bad stuff over the years and I always included Blue. However, since I've warmed to the like of For the Roses and Hissing of Summer Lawns, I probably should give Blue another shot. I'm just not excited enough by that prospect to buy a copy.