Taming the Tiger

Joni Mitchell

1998: Reprise 9362-46451-2

  1. Harlem in Havana
  2. Man from Mars
  3. Love Puts On a New Face
  4. Lead Balloon
  5. No Apologies
  6. Taming the Tiger
  7. The Crazy Cries of Love
  8. Stay In Touch
  9. Face Lift
  10. My Best to You
  11. Tiger Bones

I bought this while living in Paris, in autumn 1998, curious to see where Mitchell had gone this time and wanting to have my belief in music and art shored up while I was struggling through a rocky attempt to establish a new life abroad. The overall sound of the album was more gentle than I expected (if one can “expect” anything from Mitchell aside from to be surprised and at first baffled), and while I can’t say I disliked it I also didn’t exactly find that it grabbed me.

Well, a few songs did grab me, but in inconsistent ways at my end. “Harlem in Havana” has built-in appeal in its story, with small-town young girls getting their first taste of worldliness and exoticism firsthand (complete with cross-dressing show folk), but the story’s telling also benefits from its production in that the bulk of it is told with innocently conspiratorial hushed sound punctuated by radiant glimpses into the spectacle and surprise of not just seeing such differentness but being let in on its secrets. “Lead Balloon” I found engaging if hardly deep, although it went on a little longer than its narrative could sustain the recording. “Taming the Tiger” was lovely and arch, albeit not terribly subtle, and its instrumental version “Tiger Bones” closing the album was a nice treat for enjoying both the track on its own but also an appreciation of the vocal part’s ample value (lyrics as well as melody and performance, that is, the whole package).

Probably what surprised me most about the album was that nothing about it challenged me: my overall reaction, as I recall it, was “hmm…that’s nice,” to track after track, in varying degrees of enjoyment or just acknowledgment. Which is not what I would expect of Mitchell ever, really.

I do recall that “No Apologies,” “Love Puts On a New Face,” and “My Best to You” landed flat and cold with me then, as they still do. The others not mentioned, I’m still ambivalent about but largely uninterested in. “The Crazy Cries of Love” perhaps embodies this album’s inherent problem: it’s a cute song about passion, but there’s no sound of passion in it. The only track here that has any real drive is “Lead Balloon,” and even it is anemic. Most of the album only ranges from mild to brooding.