A review of “Court and Spark” by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” has the distinction of being her most commercially successful album. I think this is one instance where the popular taste has proved to be correct: “Court and Spark” really is her best album. “Blue” seems to be the most critically-acclaimed one, and it’s certainly a very strong contender, but I know that I like “Court and Spark” better because I simply want to listen to it more often. I think of the two albums as counterparts as well. “Blue” is instrumentally (though not lyrically) a folk album, while “Court and Spark” has too much production to be called folk; it’s clearly pop music. Both albums, like all Joni Mitchell albums, convey a good variety of emotions, but in “Blue” the general impression is of someone who’s sad, lost and doesn’t know what to do, while “Court and Spark” gives the impression of someone more self-confident.

The song which begins the album and bears the same name has a definite introductory quality; the melody feels like it’s building up to something. The lyrics describe how the narrator met a new man, and there are some great lines here describing the connection they have, but in the last two lines it turns out to be just something that never developed, since she “couldn’t let go of L. A.” (whatever that means). Because this song works as a kind of introduction, “Help Me” had to go in second place, but it was definitely recognised as hit single material and placed as high as possible for that reason. It worked too, and reached the top 10 in the Billboard charts, probably due to its really catchy and remarkably complex melody. In terms of the lyrics, it’s a slightly cheesy love song—she wants you to help her because she’s falling in love—but the lyrics are really clever nonetheless. “Free Man in Paris” was placed next; it too was a hit single, although it didn’t do quite as well as “Help Me”. Like that song it has a great, catchy, complex melody and that’s what makes the song.

Next we have “People’s Parties”, which is probably the song on this album that would be the biggest failure as a hit single, simply because its melody is a bit unremarkable. This is one of the more melancholy songs too. However, the lyrics are as good as ever. Really, this song should be regarded as a prelude “The Same Situation”. In fact, the song ends while Joni’s in the middle of singing, and the singing continues at the start of “The Same Situation”, so the two songs are clearly meant to be listened to one after the other. If we view the two songs as a single song in two parts, the song is one of the better ones on the album, because “The Same Situation” is really good. It’s a piano-driven song with a lovely melody and some great introspective lyrics.

“Car on a Hill” is another one which sounds like it could be a single, although this one wasn’t actually released. It has probably the catchiest melody of all the songs on the album, and it sounds quite upbeat, although it’s actually about Joni being stood up by her lover, waiting in vain for his car to show up. It was probably inserted in this position to prevent “Down to You” being listened to right after “The Same Situation”, since both are introspective piano-driven songs. “Down to You” doesn’t really have a memorable melody, but somehow it’s quite captivating regardless. I find it very hard to say which is the best song on this album since they’re all of evenly high quality, but “Down to You” is a definite contender.

“Just Like This Train”, which comes next, is most notable for the way that due to the way it is produced, and the way Joni sings, it has a remarkable kind of hazy, dreamy, relaxed quality. The album as a whole has this kind of quality, especially on songs like “Help Me” earlier and “Trouble Child” later on, but “Just Like This Train” is where it is most noticeable and effective. I really love the way she sings the refrain of “if you can’t find your goodness / ’cause you lost your heart”, especially. The following song, “Raised on Robbery”, is completely different. This one isn’t relaxed at all! It’s probably one of the most energetic songs Joni has made. When this track comes on, I always feel like I need to turn the volume down a little, because it seems a lot louder than the preceding songs. It is a lot of fun, though, and one of the most overtly humorous songs on this album (although most of the songs have some witty lyrics). You even get to hear Joni call someone a son of a bitch.

“Trouble Child” is another song of a similar kind to “Down to You”; it doesn’t have a catchy melody or anything, but it is kind of captivating regardless. This song was the one it took the longest for me to really enjoy hearing, but I do enjoy hearing it now. You may need to make sure you listen to the lyrics to enjoy this one, since musically it’s not quite as interesting as most of the other songs. It’s this one which I think of as the real final track of this album; “Twisted” (a cover of a song by the jazz singer Annie Ross) is just like a little joke at the end. The lyrics to this song are extremely silly but great fun to hear, and occasionally you can hear Joni trying to stifle giggles while singing them. Rather than the piano and guitar which have been around for most of this album, the main instrument here is a saxophone. The melody on here is slightly mad, just like the narrator of the song.

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