After ‘Blue’, Joni Mitchell had to save both herself and me. However, what ‘Blue’ gave me was a sense that the artist had gone through what I was going through and come through the other side (she was still alive; she was still making music). Maybe I could survive this too. I have to confess that her next LP, ‘For The Roses’, is not one of my favourites and that is more my fault than Joni’s because this is not what I wanted to hear. By the end of ‘Blue’, she had reached a dead end, drunk and cynical, awaiting a new beginning. ‘For The Roses’ is that new beginning. Stylistically, the music incorporates jazz as its main focus whilst lyrically she has moved away from personal revelation to a far more impressionistic style probably best exemplified by ‘ Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire’: “A wristwatch, a ring, a downstairs screamer / Edgy – black cracks of the sky / Pin-cushion-prick / Fix this poor bad dreamer.” On occasions, in ‘See You Sometime’, there’s a hint of the old uncertainties: “OK hang up the phone / It hurts / But something survives / Though it’s undermined / I’d still like to see you sometime.” And, amidst all the impressive word play, there is the brutal ‘Woman Of Heart And Mind’ where she nails the failings of her lover as if in crucifixion: “After the rush when you come back down / You’re always disappointed / Nothing seems to keep you high / Drive Your bargains / Push your papers / Win your medals / Fuck your strangers / Don’t it leave you on the empty side?” In 1972, no other women were writing like this about relationships. Merde, in 2012 women aren’t writing like this.
Musically, her next LP, ‘Court and Spark’, is far more commercial and lyrically she seems to have jettisoned the almost stream of consciousness approach she adopted for some of the songs on ‘For the Roses.’ The whole LP is tighter, more pop, less free-form but still with that acuity of observation and self awareness: “I’m just living on nerves and feelings / With a weak and lazy mind / And coming to people’s parties / Fumbling deaf dumb and blind.” With her next release, ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’, it was almost as if she had become bored with the pure pop she had created on ‘Court and Spark,’ and wanted to try to meld the jazz leanings of ‘For the Roses’ with the pop tunes she was capable of writing. And she succeeds spectacularly with a mixture of gorgeous songs (‘In France They Kiss On Main Street’), virtual accapella (‘Shadows and Light’) and experimentation (‘The Jungle Line’). The latter song uses a combination of moog and the warrior drums of Burundi years before either Malcolm McLaren or Paul Simon decided to move into these realms. The lyrics on the LP are almost exclusively in the third person creating a novelistic distance to what we are observing. It seems as though the pain of baring her soul so completely in ‘Blue’ has resulted in songs that are no longer autobiographical but observational which is what makes the next LP, ‘Hejira’ so surprising and so extraordinary.