Teach me how to feel – Fran’s Review

This album took a while to grow on me, and I think I worked out why. It’s not that I don’t like poetry and imagery in music, it’s just that I prefer it dressed up with as much melodrama as possible – Kate Bush and David Bowie, I’m talking about you! Joni Mitchell’s Blue is firmly melodrama free. The songs are strongly focused on the vocals, with most having just a simple acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment and occasional light percussion. Any dramatics are left to Joni’s wonderfully rich voice, which flies effortlessly from the highs to the lows and provides plenty of interest to offset the simple backing track.

The lyrics are the soulful centre of this album, with perhaps one track deserving a special mention. Little Green is a heartbreaking account of Joni’s decision give her daughter up for adoption. The sadness of this every-day tragedy is captured so poignantly, and the love and longing of a mother in an impossible situation is exposed with sombre skill. This accomplished expression of emotion and experiences continues throughout the album, and I finally understand what Emma Thompson was talking about in Love Actually:

“Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel”

In general, I find the acoustic guitar sound a bit tinny and empty-sounding, but Joni Mitchell’s powerful writing and beautiful voice are so good that it almost doesn’t matter what goes underneath.

★★★★☆

Posted in Folk, Reviews | Leave a comment

Glistening under a Sea of Blue – Dave’s Review

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue is a calm, acoustic, heartfelt record. It’s easy to drift away with the music and Joni’s delicate voice, but if you dig into the lyrics, the album begins to flourish.

Opener All I Want is an open-hearted, acoustic song about the search for love. But interestingly, not a perfect love like others have sung about before. Not just ‘knitting sweaters’ and ‘writing love letters’. Joni is looking for deeper relationships with their ups and downs; looking for adventure; looking to feel something.

This personal, emotional style continues throughout the record. Little Green is an incredibly touching song about giving her child up for adoption after becoming a mother at a young age: ‘Child with a child pretending.’

The prevailing emotion however, is sadness, with endless references to ‘the blue’, a word which features in almost every song: ‘But when he’s gone, me and them lonesome blues collide’. Not all of the album is as melancholy. Carey and California, both about returning home, feel more upbeat and cheery, adding a nice balance to the album.

My highlight of the record is A Case of You, perhaps because I love the James Blake cover, my first introduction to the song. The tone of the lyrics is great, the casual way she describes sitting in a bar, reflecting, remembering stupid things you said. My favourite line in the whole album ‘on the back of a cartoon coaster, in the blue TV screen light, I drew a map of Canada – oh, Canada! – with your face sketched on it twice’. The twice makes it.

The song talks of an ex-lover, how he ‘touched her soul’ and ‘got in her blood’. It completes the opener, All I Want, perfectly, as Joni got what she was looking for. The final track, The Last Time I Saw Richard, goes full circle as Joni, still a romantic, is still dreaming.

‘Dark cafes: only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away.
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.’

★★★★☆

Posted in Folk, Reviews | Leave a comment

Blue songs for blue skies..?

I’m in the mood to sample a classic! And by most measures this fortnight’s album is a classic. Rolling Stone ranked it the 30th best album of all time, and when the New York Times were looking for the 25 albums that represent “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music”, it made the cut. I have not been overly fond of most of the Folk music we’ve covered so far on our musical adventure, so here’s hoping Joni Mitchell’s Blue breaks the mould and proves the ideal accompaniment to a sunny(!?) Easter weekend!

Joni Mitchell - Blue

Joni Mitchell – Blue

Each fortnight Fran and Dave choose a new album to listen to. We write about the genre or artist during the fortnight, and post our reviews on Sunday. Want to join the musical adventure? Subscribe by clicking the link in the sidebar to get an email every time there’s a new post.
Posted in Folk | Leave a comment

Violently Happy – Fran’s Review

Björk’s second album Debut is a weird and wonderful slice of the 90s. Rocketing between styles, the album is loud and quiet, fast and slow, modern and classical.  I didn’t understand at first why Dave classified this as Alternative Dance when much of it is very slow paced and gentle (see Like Someone In Love), but tracks like the club-set There’s More To Life Than This, and the manically upbeat Violently Happy go some way to explain it.

Despite the wide variety of styles, the album has a unifying airy feel throughout. This can be attributed to Björk’s light-touch vocals, which generally float fairly delicately over the music (bar the occasional shriek!). The singing has a distinct girlish sound, which is perhaps most noticeable in the almost a capella parts of There’s More To Life Than This. It is an unusual style that comes into its own in One Day, perfectly complimenting the optimistic innocence of the lyrics.

This fortnight (!) has been a great contrast to the Musical Adventure’s more sombre turn of late. Debut is both lyrically and musically uplifting, with some glorious electronic experimentation.

★★★★☆

Posted in Alternative Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

Consistently Varied Debut – Dave’s Review

Björk’s Debut is a varied album, full of character, mixing elements of classic house and trip hop with more mellow pop, featuring a range of brass, percussion, strings, and electronic instrumentation.

Percussion plays a key role in many of the songs, whether driving the song forward, like on Human Behaviour, or providing a backdrop for Björk’s excellent vocals, as on Aeroplane. Björk’s delivery ranges from the sweet, delicateness of Venus As A Boy to the powerful roar of Crying, to the cheeky whisper of There’s More To Life Than This, to the playful joy of Big Time Sensuality, sometimes all within a single song.

The first half of the record in particular features a lot of classic house, identifiable by its repetitive, dancey beat, bouncing piano or keyboard and the occasional bit of trumpet. The sound can be heard on songs such as Crying, Big Time Sensuality, Violently Happy and the quirky There’s More To Life Than This, during which Björk momentarily sneaks away from a party.

These classic house tunes are alternated with softer, slower tracks, often with a more romantic feel about them, as can be heard in Venus As A Boy and Like Someone In Love, in which Björk’s vocals are accompanied only by a harp.

The second half of the record features more of a relaxed trip hop feel to it, with songs like One Day and my highlight of the album, the wonderfully soothing Come To Me. In contrast, bonus track Play Dead carries a grander, darker, more serious weight to it, further explored in Björk’s later albums, in particular on Homogenic.

Despite all of this variation, the album is consistently strong and fits well as a whole. The pacing is good and allows Björk’s unique character to shine through.

★★★★★

Posted in Alternative Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

Alternative Dance

To follow last fortnight’s Alternative Rock album, I thought it would be good to explore a genre I may have missed from the music tree, Alternative Dance. For the next fortnight we’ll be listening to Björk’s 1993 album, Debut.

Iceland’s most famous singer has had a distinguished career to date. Her music blends a wide range of genres including trip hop, house, pop, rock, jazz, experimental art rock and dance. She is also well known for her fashion, acting, political views, but mainly her individuality as an artist.

An exhibition of Björk’s career will be appearing soon in a special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York between 8th March and 7th June.

Björk - Debut

Björk – Debut

Each fortnight Fran and Dave choose a new album to listen to. We write about the genre or artist during the fortnight, and post our reviews on Sunday. Want to join the musical adventure? Subscribe by clicking the link in the sidebar to get an email every time there’s a new post.
Posted in Alternative Dance | 1 Comment

It’s OK with me – Fran’s Review

So I’ll keep this short, because I have a feeling Dave won’t! I really enjoyed listening to OK Computer this fortnight. It’s an incredibly bleak album, full of disillusionment, but it is beautifully done.

My favourite part of the record is the transition from the atmospheric and slightly terrifying Climbing Up the Walls into the calm embrace of No Surprises. The change from the wailing guitars (and wailing) of Climbing Up the Walls into the beautiful lullaby of the following track is almost enough to divert you from the continuation of the ominous themes, although the peaceful oblivion of carbon-monoxide poisoning is not quite as grim as having your head caved in with a pickaxe!

I wouldn’t say the experience of listening to this album has changed my perception of Radiohead’s output as a pretty depressing body of work. There is, however, a lot to like in the introspective lyrics and layered guitars. And there are some upbeat moments – penultimate track Lucky has an optimistic slant, and opener Airbag is positively buoyant by Radiohead standards!

★★★★★

Posted in Alternative Rock, Reviews | 1 Comment