You have to fight through a lot of obstacles to realize it, but Joni Mitchell’s first album of new material in nine years is often a lovely and graceful collection. But, oy, those obstacles! The pretentious cover image of ballet dancers in mid-leap wouldn’t be so bad on its own. But paired with her consistently un-pop jazzlite arrangements, occasionally haranguing lyrics, and an unfortunate artsy remake of her classic “Big Yellow Taxi,” Shine can, on first impression, feel like one more piece of “serious significance” from a singersongwriter whose greatest gift back in her ’70s heyday was her light touch and confessional intimacy.
Give the record time, however, and the considerable beauty of these 10 tracks starts to emerge. Much like her 2000 orchestral concept album, Both Sides Now, which traced a love affair from passion to disillusionment through a collection of jazz standards, Shine has its own emotional arc, as Mitchell journeys from anger to forgiveness while documenting the modern moral and ecological destruction that surrounds her. Her overreliance on flittering saxophones risks unwelcome Sting comparisons, but mostly these languid songs, anchored by her melancholy piano, achieve an aura of weary, wised-up sophistication. Still, it’s worth noting that while her melodic sense is sure, her lyrics can drift into the same indigestible preachiness that’s marred her work for almost 20 years now. Consequently, the two best songs on a good-butnot- great comeback are the album-opening instrumental and the closing ode to serenity, in which a Rudyard Kipling poem articulates her worldview better than she seemingly can herself these days.
Tim Grierson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.