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For the Roses is a 1972 album by the Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. This came in the wake of her most famous album Blue and is generally regarded to be up there with her very best work. For the Roses is said to mark a slight transition in her career and music but I can't say I noticed a huge difference myself apart from maybe a couple of songs (I've only listened to the early seventies albums so far anyway as those feel like they would be the most appealing to me). Joni Mitchell apparently decamped to the Canadian wilderness to write this album in isolation and this is certainly apparent in the spirit and sound of many of the songs. The album begins with a song called Banquet. Banquet is exactly what you expect when listen to another Joni Mitchell record from the early seventies for the first time. We could be on a spaceship with Bruce Dern surrounded by bunny rabbits. "Some turn to Jesus, Some turn to heroin, And some turn to ramblin' around," sings Joni Mitchell in soaring hippy fashion. I like this song and it's a strong way to begin For the Roses. Very gentle jingle jangle and pretty with those sad lyrics and Summer infused music. Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire is a bit less loveable and feels slightly harsher for Joni Mitchell. Obviously this is not Spinal Tap but the guitar is a little more strident than one would expect on a Joni Mitchell album from this period. Her voice is still great but I didn't quite get into this song in the immediate fashion that I did with others by this artist that I've listened to so far. The lyrics are very bleak here as Joni Mitchell sings about going down a "down, down, down, down, a dark ladder." That must be a big ladder. Barangrill - a song about the delights of a truckstop - is much more adorable and more in the wandering minstrel hippy trippy fluffy pillows vein of Joni Mitchell than the previous one. This is a fairly simple folk song that isn't terribly long or complicated but the singer's voice is wonderful here. She seems to know exactly how long to hold onto a word or line for maximum impact and I love the range of her voice and the way she can make herself sound slightly different from song to song but still have an unmistakable style.
I didn't really like the next song - Lesson in Survival - so much although it's perfectly fine. It just isn't as immediate or pretty as some of the other songs here. Joni Mitchell slows down here (even for her) and almost speaks rather than sings. There is quite a strident piano in the background that becomes a bit annoying at times, hammering home some of the lines. "When you dig down deep, You lose good sleep, And it makes you heavy company," sings Joni Mitchell. Someone had obviously got on her nerves. Let the Wind Carry Me is a ballad and longer than most of the other songs here. It isn't my favourite song on this album to be honest although Joni Mitchell sings very nicely as usual. The song is about parents and what a pain in the neck they can be or something. Joni Mitchell sings about a mother who seems to disapprove of everything she does. There seems to be a slight jazz element to this song with what sounds like the tentative gambits of a saxophone in the background. I wasn't too sure about this really as I've only ever listened to early Joni Mitchell albums and I really like to think of her singing alone or with an acoustic guitar in a field of swirling grass with a headband and an audience made up entirely of small woodland animals. I find that the more spartan the songs are and the more they focus on her voice the better.
You get exactly that though with the title song - For the Roses. This is absolutely sublime and indescribably charming and wonderful. With just an acoustic guitar, Joni Mitchell spins a lyric about fame and how it can play hideous tricks on the brain (as Morrissey might say). "Up the charts, Off to the airpor/You're name's in the news, Everything's first class, The lights go down, And it's just you up there, Getting them to feel like that..." She sings very beautifully here and every breath and word seems to mesh perfectly and coalesce into a song that is about as lovely as music can get. Joni Mitchell's lyrics can seem a bit obtuse at times but you always sort of know what she means and they are good here. "I heard it in the wind last night, It sounded like applause ... And the moon swept down black water, Like an empty spotlight." See You Sometime is another piano driven song and maybe a bit too melodramatic for my liking. Joni Mitchell's voice becomes harder here before slipping down a few notches in the end. A perfectly decent song by the standards of most people but not really top tier Joni Mitchell for me. The lyrics seem to be about romantic competition and jealousy and Joni Mitchell does seem a bit angrier here than usual. Electricity is more hippy trippy folk Joni Mitchell and one of the most pleasant songs on the album. It seems to be about city life and how people can become mindless automatons. Nice choral interlude in this song I think.
You Turn Me on I'm a Radio is the closest thing here to a pop song. It's busier than than your average Joni Mitchell song with a faster tempo and more going on in the background by way of backing vocals and instruments. It isn't my favourite Joni Mitchell song but it is quite fun as it dips and soars like a rollercoaster that isn't too far off the ground. The song has an interesting history in that the title is a sarcastic reference by Joni Mitchell to the record company asking her to write a more "radio friendly" song for the album. I can imagine she found this instruction rather insulting and she lets them have it in the lyrics with lines about about them not liking strong women and anyone with a brain. Blonde in the Bleachers is a gloomy ballad and just a trifle dull to be honest. I'm not a great fan of Joni Mitchell when she goes very heavy and melodramatic. I like lighter than air fluffy clouds rainbow Joni Mitchell. Woman of Heart and Mind is an acoustic song but more complex than some of the others here in that vein. What I like about this song is the way it becomes much darker than some of the others but doesn't become melodramatic or too gloom laden in terms of its sound. It remains touching and heartfelt but has a lightness of touch. A very delicate balancing act that is wonderfully carried off. The final song - Judgment of the Moon and Stars - is by far the longest here and goes on for over five minutes. This is an intimate kitchen sink epic and a classy way to end the record. It's quite dark but not an ordeal to get through like a few of the more downbeat piano led songs on this album.
On the whole, I thought For the Roses was very good and more or less the equal of Blue and Clouds. Songs like For the Roses were as enjoyable for me as anything on the other records I've listened to and the high spots are wonderful. There are a couple of songs I found to be a slight slog but the great stuff more than makes up for this. For the Roses is superb at its best and certainly worth a listen if this sounds like your cup of tea.