With her fourth release, Blue, Joni Mitchell left no stone unturned and stripped herself bare before her audience. The 10 track record was written after a few turbulent years prior to its recording. Love lost, love gained and love lost again is the story of one of the most iconic albums of all time.
|Artist: Joni Mitchell
Album Title: Blue
It’s not unheard of for musicians and artists to go through tumultuous events in their life and then go on to release a good record using those experiences as the subject matter. With Blue there’s a burning honesty which is completely direct. Joni Mitchell raises no barriers throughout this melancholy reflection over her past loves; she simply has no reason to hide anything anymore.
What really impresses me about this record is the ‘less is more’ production and mix. The instrumentation is for the sole purpose of accompanying Joni’s voice, whether it’s an acoustic guitar or piano. There isn’t a track on this which draws away from Joni; the instrumentation merely lifts her vocal performances. If anything, the simplistic instrumentation helps to focus on her lyrics. There’s nothing to distract you and any decoration, for example the pedal steel guitar in ‘California’, is a welcome addition to the track. The percussion (on the few tracks that it’s featured on) just steadily rumbles in the background.
The album can be divided neatly into segments. The opening few tracks feel like a sad reflection on a relationship doomed to end. Joni bounces between love and hate, wanting to fix things, wanting them to break. This sense of confusion and pain seeps through the next few tracks until we’re graced with ‘Carey’. This rhythmic up-beat song is a satisfying addition. The song itself feels like a pleasant memory and is one of Joni’s strongest performances on the records. There’s a sense of whimsy about it and you can imagine Joni swaying and smiling as she sings it.
This is followed immediately by the incredible and devastating title track, ‘Blue’. It’s heart breaking and mournful. The piano stays steady alongside Joni in what I find to be the most cutting track on the record. It sounds like saying goodbye someone and hoping that that person is listening. It evokes imagery of a cold and lonely place, like an empty beach, with the sea limply clawing at the sand.
We’re then revitalised with Country-esque head-bobber ‘California’. It’s another breath of fresh air similar to ‘Carey’ and a pick-me-up track from Joni, with some great instrumental accompaniment. The drums are subtle and driven with the acoustic guitars almost dancing and bouncing around her, with the pedal steel guitar gliding across the track when it needs to.
‘This Flight Tonight’ then crashes in, a jittery, nervous track (and my favourite on the record). It’s a recalling of Joni’s regrets of leaving her lover on a flight and wanting to return. It also has one of the most genius elements of the record in it. The lyrics leading to this moment are, “I’m drinkin’ sweet champagne / got the headphones up high / can’t numb you out / can’t drum you out of my mind…” and then the track changes. It becomes a song you’d hear through someone else’s headphones for 3 lines. It becomes a bit rockier, however, a guitar lick and slide resolving with a quick drum fill before returning to normal.
The last 3 tracks of the record are more of a melancholy reflection. ‘River’ is another painful memory which Joni sounds heartbroken and lost on. ‘A Case of You’ is a cutting explanation of losing a love, and despite the impression left, ‘I could drink a case of your darling and still be on my feet’. Finally, ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ is an angry, biting reference to Joni’s first and brief marriage.
It’s reported that when this record was shown to Kris Kristofferson he commented, “Joni! Keep something of yourself!”. I have to say, I sincerely hope she did hold a little piece of herself for herself. She throws herself into the spotlight, bare and unafraid on this record, and over the years it’s deservedly won numerous accolades. It’s an impressive, beautiful piece of art worthy of its recognition.