As we age, we beg that artists affect us as they did in our youth, especially the ones who spoke with clarity about life’s hidden treasures and pitfalls. Joni Mitchell created such a prescient roadmap for life and love in the 1960s and early ’70s that everything since has felt cryptic by comparison. Fans realize they need to let her grow, but that’s tough when she is venturing down sidestreets that are years beyond the fandom’s ken. (Decades later her experimental work revealed itself to be rather on the mark).
“Shine” is a grand return full of familiar imagery in the lyrics, delivered in non-rhyming phrases that force the listener to connect dots between the real and imaginary. “This Place,” for example, deals with a bear going through the garbage cans and “the spirit of the water”; the ballad “Strong and Wrong” seemingly discusses the love of a man and woman and includes phrases such as “shock and awe” and “onward Christian soldiers.” That one is a mystery.
Mitchell, whose voice has deepened, continues to develop as a composer, framing the songs in keyboards and woodwinds, not so much writing melodies as she is creating textures, most of which suggest dark rooms in which the heavy drapes are occasionally pulled aside to reveal daylight. Much of the material is keenly formless, which helps set off the lyrics; on the few tracks in which she uses an acoustic guitar, “If” is the most solid example, the singer re-connects with the style that connected with listeners in the mid-70s. Slow moving seven-minute title track is a graceful tirade against technology, leadership, war and the consequences of so-called progress, but like so much of Mitchell’s great work, there’s a sense of hope that’s there for anyone who choses to listen closely.