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Turbulent Indigo is the fifteenth album by Joni Mitchell and was released in 1994. This Vincent van Gogh inspired album was considered to be something of a return to form by Joni Mitchell and received generally positive notices but it left me a trifle cold at times and I think I still much prefer the early albums like Clouds or Blue. Sunny Sunday begins the album and has a vague jazzy feel but is mostly driven by an acoustic guitar in the style of Joni Mitchell's early albums although the voice is much richer now with more depth. Joni Mitchell sounds much throatier here than she did in her younger days and this is both a strength and a weakness. On Turbulent Indigo she sometimes feels too settled into one way of singing rather than display the different styles that she used to once. She's still capable of different approaches to her vocal range but doesn't choose to do that very often here. I prefer the more falsetto vocals of the young Joni Mitchell but she can still sing remarkably well and to be fair has more timbre as an older artist if you like that. This song has a very languid feel that makes it slightly dreamy with a lulling quality. Sex Kills is a bit louder and more generic than your average Joni Mitchell song with twangy reverberating guitars proving to be a long way away from the acoustic guitar and piano that was once the staple backdrop for the singer's arch meditations. I like Joni Mitchell's voice here and the song is quite atmospheric at times but it has a faint aura of naffness sometimes with the music. A sort of eighties made for television film about a private detective quality that take one out of the sentiment and mood of the song. A decent song but personally I found the music here wasn't quite my cup of tea. The lyrics seem to be Joni Mitchell getting everything out of her system and railing at the modern world. It veers close to agit-prop and stating the bleeding obvious but she does sing with genuine emotion. "Is justice just ice? Governed by greed and lust? Just the strong doing what they can, And the weak suffering what they must? And the gas leaks, And the oil spills." Not the most chipper song but not bad,
How Do You Stop is a ballad and (I believe) a cover version of an eighties song which I've never heard of. This features the singer Seal on backing vocals - which is not a tremendously great omen as Seal is a bit naff and not someone you'd admit to listening to or liking. The only thing I know about Seal is that he sang a song for Batman Forever and that's about it. This is a big ballad with a lush but lightweight feel and I can't say I've ever really got into it despite the sometimes lovely vocal by Joni Mitchell. I feel that the touching abstract emotion the song is aiming for might have worked better if the singer had been more in the spotlight and able to perform in a more minimalist fashion without too much in the way of background music or backing vocals. Turbulent Indigo is the title song and inspired by Van Gogh with lyrics about being an artist and madness. This is possibly the best song on the album I think and probably my favourite. The salient factor in its appeal is the fact that Joni Mitchell sounds much more folk hippy as she did on the early records. She manages to recapture that flower power conspiratorial charm and personal vocal where you feel as if she is singing to you and it's all about Joni Mitchell rather than clever guitar licks or backing duets with herself. The stripped down nature of this song and the gentle vocal makes it very appealing. The simplicity of the construction works to its strength. The lyrics are quite nice too. "And all my little landscapes, All my yellow afternoons, Stack up around this vacancy, Like dirty cups and spoons."
Last Chance Lost is very jazzy and more expansive once again after the minimalist approach on the previous song. Joni Mitchell's soaring vocal is impressive but this never quite hit the mark for me or charmed in the fashion that many songs on previous Joni Mitchell albums have. I found the guitar and jazz inflected music to be borderline generic and for some bizarre reason whenever Joni Mitchell's musicians go somewhat jazzy it always reminds me of the theme to Moonlighting. The Magdalene Laundries is a song about women who were confined to the Magdalen Asylums run by the Roman Catholic Church. This is a heartfelt balled with some good guitar work and good use of phrasing and stops and starts by Joni Michel but I found the overall effect to be a little gloomy and lacking the stardust of the best Joni Mitchell songs. Not enough honey drenched vocals. The next song is called Not to Blame. I liked Joni Mitchell's vocal on this a lot because it felt like the early records again. A much softer and more restrained approach with some of the gravity defying floaty vocals of old. It becomes more prosaic when the music begins to infiltrate more and more but on the whole this is one of the nicer and more accessible songs here despite the dark lyrics about a man who battered his wife to death. "Six hundred thousand doctors are putting on rubber gloves, And they're poking at the miseries made of love, They say they're learning how to spot the battered wives, Among all the women they see bleeding through their lives." Generally I found this song to be very appealing in terms of the vocals and sound and I would say it's one of my favourites on Turbulent Indigo.
Borderline is a pretty song about (I suppose) the general borderlines and boundaries of life. Joni Mitchell is again doing that vague crooning thing here with gentle guitars and a mildly jazz sounding surround sound but by this stage maybe Turbulent Indigo is maybe starting to become a bit samey. Yvette In English tries to be a bit kooky with more vocal contortions and strange phrasing than we've had from Joni Mitchell on this album so far (the music follows this cue with random beeps and horns here and there) and while the vocal is imaginative and inventive I don't think this is one of the best songs on the album at all and just sort of washes over you in a pleasant but unmemorable fashion. Finally, The Sire Of Sorrow is a song that appears to be about Joni Mitchell's inner demons or God. She sort of does a duet with herself here and the vocal is again very genuine and passionate with a throaty warbly quality that is not without charm. "Oh, you tireless watcher, What have I done to you, That you make, Everything I dread & everything I fear Come true." A decent way to end what has been for me personally a mixed. While I liked parts of Turbulent Indigo very much and there are two or three songs worthy of inclusion on any Joni Mitchell album I found this a rather gloomy album at times (there only seems to be one upbeat optimistic song) and it did seem to become rather one-note. If you like the jazz inflected guitar sound that resonates here you might like this more than I did though. It's still worth a listen for the vocals and a couple of wonderful songs but I can't say that Turbulent Indigo is my favourite offering from Joni Mitchell and for me fell a long way short of Hejira, Court and Spark, Clouds and Blue.
Turbulent Indigo is an album by the fabulous Joni Mitchell. I bought my album from amazon about a year ago and it cost about £7 including post and packaging. (It was an "Excellent Condition" used album) This album has become one of her most critically acclaimed releases. It won two Grammy's in 1996, one for best pop album, winning over Madonna, Mariah Carey and Annie Lennox. The second was for the recording package. The paintings in the sleeve are beautiful - they burst not with simply indigo but with magnificent coulours and shapes. The album was released on October 25, 1994. This is certainly one of Joni Mitchell's rawest, to-the-core/bone albums and I think how much you like or don't like it depends partly on how much rawness you can take.
As far as Joni's folky -sounding stuff goes, I absolutely love the album "Blue". I will probably review it at a later date. However, this album almost matches it. Turbulent Indigo is said to be her best album in over 15 years and I completely agree. ("Blue" was written in 1971 may I add.) It seems that the wear-and-tear on Joni's voice have only added to its character. Time and cigarettes normally do vile things to your voice (so I'm constantly being told as an actor/singer) - but Joni Mitchell has managed to make an exception and has defied nature. (She smoked from the age of 9! How is this even possible?) By the early nineties, her voice matured into a lower, sultry tone compared to earlier works. In this album her voice is deep and husky in places, quiet and tranquil in others. My only pickle is that she doesn't use a huge vocal range - high notes are few and far between. In saying that she stays where she is comfortable and thats fair doo's - maybe she doesn't need to demonstrate at age 64 she can still hit a top C.
Joni Background info
I'm in awe of this musician. I don't want to bore you with facts etc, but I personally think she is utterly fascinating. She was born 1943 in Canada and thinks she would have been athlete if things had gone to plan. However she was struck by a number of life threatening illnesses at a young age including polio, chick pox and scarlet fever. The singing began when she was in a hospital room with 6 year old boy who was very sad - she sang to try and cheer him up. But the boy told her to shut up! So her very first fan at the age of 9 was a heckler! As a teenager, she taught herself ukulele and, later, guitar and began performing at parties, which eventually led to busking and gigs playing in coffeehouses and other venues. Painting was her real love and passion and when she went art school, she paid for her fees and fags via music. After leaving art-college in June 1964, she left her home and moved to Toronto. Joni also found out that she was pregnant by her college ex-boyfriend, and in 1965 she gave birth to a baby girl. A few weeks after the birth, Joni married folk-singer Chuck Mitchell and another few weeks later she gave the baby up for adoption. In the summer of 1965, Chuck Mitchell took Joni with him to the U.S. However, the marriage and partnership of Joan & Chuck Mitchell ended after a year and a half. So after giving up her baby and finishing her marriage she poured her heart and soul into music that helped define a generation. In the 1970's she was an artist with the right voice right time.
Turbulent Indigo reflects her thoughts on a troubled world and the music pitches and rolls appropriately. Joni uses some really organic-sounding, symphonic sound effects that completely enhance the sound rather than mess with it. It's a Alternative, Folk jazz genre and The album lasts about 43 minutes. Joni Mitchell found her inspiration for this album from the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh for her own self-portrait on the cover. It's a weird album in the sense that, I hadn't realised it was so dark and melancholy until I listened to the lyrics. It's all hidden in the lyrics. You know that way sometimes you can listen to music without actually LISTENING to what it's saying. But the utter brilliance of this album doesn't make you want to slit your wrists or start popping the pills. I was happily singing along to "The Sire of sorrow" not that long ago in the supermarket, minding my own business up the fish ailse (as you do) and I hadn't even given the lyrics a second thought until I heard myself sing "Let me speak, let me spit out my bitterness, Born of grief and nights without sleep and festering flesh... what have i done to you? That you make everything I dread and everything I fear come true?" well, all I'll say is that I hadn't noticed I was singing so loud...the old lady next to me seemed most offended! There is a theme throughout the album about people who hide behind masks of morality. Several songs lead always to this theme, and that of the observer who can only observe in silence, silenced by what their eyes see - quite ironic really that the old lady I met up the fish ailse was tutting and shaking her head when she heard me singing.....Its a supermarket not a library! and she had a purple rinse through her hair which at the time I did think was rather unfortunate....sorry I digress.
Each song is like a painting. So many layers and textures and more detailed than you first think. Each of these "Paintings" work together to create one solid masterpiece of a CD. Like most of her albums, the whole is dependant on the collaboration of the contents. These are not random individual songs without order. They are chapters in a book- put on one song, and the "prose" can be ached and awknowleged. Choosing a song from "Turbulent Indigo" is like choosing your favorite Van Gogh Painting-they are all so wonderfully individual in their own right.
1) Sunny Sunday - This is a real silky jazz number and it eases you in gently to the album. Basically a woman tries to shoot out a street light with a pistol and misses every night - a metaphor for an individuals struggle to fight against civilization. I love the tranquil guitar intro - it lures you into a sense of security. Wayne Shorter's soprano sax screams out during the bridge which seems to represent the rising tension of the scene - utter genius! It's a bit like a sound scape this song and each time I listen to it there is something else I discover, pure magic!
2)The song "Sex Kills" refers to a number of late twentieth century issues including violence, global warming and consumerism. With a title like that, its got something important to say! A generalized criticism about everything, Joni takes it all on - from lawyers to the hole in the ozone layer. It has a metallic backing that is utterly perfect for the lyrics. The music creates a kind of clattering of an alley, it's so vivid. Such a powerful track. When you close your eyes and listen to this song you can hear so many things going on. It's open to interpretation as well. It's art and only when you listen closely to the detail and close your eyes can you hear the amount that is involved.
3)"How do you stop" Great song-Joni rarely does other writers' material which means when she does, it's particularly meaningful. HOW DO YOU STOP and it was released circa 1986. This apparently was written by Dan Hartman (of I Can Dream About You fame) in 1986. From what I know of him he wrote it from a personal place he knew a lot about. It's an incredibly moving song.
4)The song "Turbulent Indigo" specifically addresses the madness of Van Gogh, an inability to understand artists. Being a painter herself I think this number is partly about how people don't understand her either.The title song laments the ignorance of the world at large regarding what it takes to be an artist. Artists aren't manufactured, they are born. They are then shaped by time and experience. This is my favourite track - it has a kind of lullaby bridge "oh what do you know about living in turbulent indigo?" It's explores contrast and pace. Can be listened to anywhere - my preference is on a Sunday morning whilst tidying the flat - this tune playing loud as poss and your laughing. The beat of the guitar and sax in the background does have a tendency to make me dance too though (a waltz is very appropriate) so you have been warned.
5)"last chance lost" - about a romantic disappointment. I love the make up of this song. She has been really clever in her use of poetry techniques . eg. repetition for emphasis. The her music really seduces you, drawing you into her world of pain and sorrow. Like all of the songs on this album this one really reaches something inside you. Love, love, love the guitar music in this song too.
6) "Magdalene Laundries" about the sufferings of Irish women once consigned to Magdalen Asylums run by the Roman Catholic Church and made to work in the asylum's laundries. The synthesized elements in the backing help to pack more of an emotional punch, the electronic wailing in this song has to be one of the album highlights. It's a sad a beautiful ballad. The spaces in this particular number are as important as the notes, simple arrangements that support and enhance the words. I love this number because it is so rich and full of a deeper truth.
7)The song "Not to Blame" was rumored to be about Mitchell's singer-songwriting colleague Jackson Browne and his then girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannahd. (Joni denies this is what the song is based on though) The song is about a famous man who beat his wife to death, but everyone just said "She was out of line, you're not to blame," and Joni questions why, saying "Not one wet eye around her lonely little grave said 'He was out of line girl, you are not to blame.'" Really painful theme, incredible arrangements.
8)"Borderline" I absolutely love this song. It's about how everything seems to have a borderline, everything has boundaries nowadays. It's such a relevant song in current society. With lyrics like "You snipe so steady / You snub so snide / So ripe and ready / To diminish and deride! / You're so quick to condescend / My opinionated friend / All you deface, all you defend / Is just a borderline" She has so many complex ideas going on and she expresses them using quite complex phrases - I personally think that this kind of complexity is frequently absent in pop - rock music. Lets have more of it.
9)"Yvette in English" This is a song that might be considered weak by some, but rolling melody's around the lyrics to make this such a fabulous listen.
10)"The sire of sorrow" basically about a man whose livelihood has been taken away by some unnamed "tireless watcher". I presume God? But at the same time, the fantastic guitar work with Joni harmonizing with herself is so easy on the ear. Swooping melodies and amazing lyrics. So powerful and honest, few songwriters could write with such blunt and honest language. It is powerful, depressing, dark and sad and scary and wonderful. Fabulous closure to the album.
Other dudes involved
Jim Keltner- Drums
Larry Klein - Organ, Bass, Producer
Michael Landau - Guitar (Electric)
Greg Leisz - Guitar
Joni Mitchell - Bass, Guitar, Producer, Art Direction
Seal - Vocals
Wayne Shorter - Sax (Soprano)
Carlos Vega - Drums
The low key music really and restrained vocals contrast the powerful lyrics. It shows us a disturbing view of modern life made all the more potent by the hushed presentation. All the tracks have a stand-out quality with few words to translate meaning. A great album, but I highly doubt it will be everyone's taste.
Thanks for reading
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Sunny Sunday
2 Sex Kills
3 How Do You Stop
4 Turbulent Indigo
5 Last Chance Lost
6 Magdalene Laundries
7 Not To Blame
9 Yvette In English
10 Sire Of Sorrow (Job's Sad Song)