I have spent the last couple of decades hating the music of Joni Mitchell. Well, more accurately, I have spent the last couple of decades assuming I hate the music of Joni Mitchell based on the one and only Joni Mitchell song I know, Big Yellow Taxi. That song boils my blood. It’s just so wet, so precious, so feeble, so everything that makes folk music and a certain version of the 60s make me want to vomit. And that little giggle she does after singing in a deep voice for half a line? That might be the most infuriating second or two ever committed to tape.
But when she was rushed to hospital a few months ago, a lot of musicians and music journalists I really like felt compelled to wax lyrical about how much Joni Mitchell and her music means to them. I know this isn’t the most open minded approach, but when I decided to listen to Song to a Seagull, I never expected to like it. At best, I thought I might just have a little more context for my hatred. So, with my less than honourable intentions out there for all to see, here goes.
It’s like Joni Mitchell knows how I’ve felt about her all these years and wants to really rub it in by opening with I Had a King. A theory that’s backed up by Michael From Mountains. First of all, Mitchell’s voice is like a drill in my skull. Trilling along in its earnest-folk meets light pompous-opera warble, I assume this is what an iron deficiency sounds like.
Then, Night in the City has the balls to make me almost feel sorry for that bitchy paragraph I just wrote. With just the slightest addition of energy and life, Mitchell’s sound is transformed into something I don’t hate. Even the yodelling chorus is more interesting than infuriating. It’s amazing what a difference a bass guitar and piano make. This song sounds like Joni Mitchell may have actually almost enjoyed recording it. And that makes me almost like it.
Unfortunately, that’s the only real bright spot on Joni Mitchel. After Night in the City, the rest of the record is the musical equivalent of a bowl of tepid water. If you have to consume it, it’s not offensive, but it’s not too far from making you gag. On the other hand, it’s so innocuous that you just might not ever even notice it’s there.