listening to joni: #11: wild things run fast

Wild Things Run Fast, 1982

Front Cover
Wild Things Run Fast feels like the beginning of a new Joni era.

Mingus ended a trajectory. After Mingus, Joni toured, and took a break from recording. From now on she would release an album every three or four years, rather than annually as she once did.

For me, Wild Things is an easy album to enjoy. It's tuneful and accessible, Joni's voice velvety over well-honed pop-jazz. With the opening notes of the first track, "Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody", you know you're in familiar territory, reminiscent of Hissing and Hejira, but simplified and streamlined.

Back Cover
I wonder if this lady has a hole in her stockings.

"Chinese Cafe" laments lost youth, and the lost landmarks of youth, the paved-over paradise, not with a deep sadness, just a wistfulness, an acceptance. Joni sings to an old friend, as she did in "Song for Sharon". Careful listeners, hearing My child's a stranger, I bore her, but I could not raise her, can flash back to "Little Green" from Blue. But Joni's reunion with her daughter is still 15 years away.

Joni weaves the "Chinese Cafe" tune into the classic "Unchained Melody", but without the deep despair that song is often given by singers, more of a straightforward reading. This is in keeping with the feel of the whole album. After all, a centerpiece is "Play It Cool", with the refrain, Play it cool, play it cool, fifty-fifty, fire and ice.

In the title track, Joni touches on the love-vs-freedom conflict, this time from the perspective of "Coyote" or "Blond in the Bleachers". No sadness here either -- more of a bemused understanding: eating from her hand at last. But when it gets too cozy:
Fast tracks in the powder white
Leading out to the road
Winding from her tender grasp
Perhaps "Ladies Man" was inspired by the same dude, a man who can charm the diamonds off a rattlesnake. This is a wonderfully provocative line:
Why do you keep on trying to
Make a man of me
Couldn't you just love me
Like you love cocaine
"Moon at the Window" has the feel of a jazz standard, Joni's voice dipping and swooping into high and low registers, Wayne Shorter's soprano sax flying alongside, Joni's signature harmonies, once again her own backup singer.
Is it possible to learn
How to care and not care
Since love has two faces
Hope and despair
Inside Cover
Classic Joni lyrics, but with a cool sound, no angst here.

"This Solid Love" was and always will be about Joni's relationship with bassist and producer Larry Klein (who Joni has always called Klein). It's no small feat to write a happy, celebratory love song that isn't sappy or simplistic.
Love always made me feel so uneasy
I couldn't relax and just be me
More like some strange disease
Than this solid love
She also uses a bit of talk-singing to proclaim their love Un-believable and Hot dog darlin'.

"Underneath the Streetlight" is also a celebration of love. And the closing track is one of the most profound celebrations of love ever written: Corinthians 13. I love the cadences of the King James Bible, and am a huge fan of the poetry of Corinthians; Joni singing them is a rare treat for me. This is not a religious thing; I'm a Jewish atheist. But if you love Shakespeare, you've got to give King James a chance.

The woman whose heartweariness sang Maybe I've never really loved, I guess that is the truth, the woman who growled Love's a repetitious danger, now offers, If I didn't have love, I'd have nothing.

Wild Things Run Fast is a celebration of love in many forms.

Joni and Klein, from inside cover

Along with "Unchained Melody", there's another cover on this album, Leiber and Stoller's "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care". It's a bit of a throwaway track, but it works well with "Solid Love" and "Underneath the Streetlight".

Bad critic comment of the album

There are quite a few to choose from for this album. Although some critics praised Wild Things, most found it too simplistic, too pop, not pop enough, too unstructured, too this, too that.

Richard Cook, writing in NME, finds "nothing of consequence to remark on", pans the "distressingly simple" rock sound, and dismisses Wayne Shorter and certain production values as "a rich woman's indulgence". He damns-with-faint-praise Joni's voice, and sneers at past lyrics: "And there were always her diaries to look through, over and over."

The worst stab of the review, however, is a very low -- and ignorant -- blow: comparing Joni unfavourably to Rickie Lee Jones. Jones at the time was wearing a beret and smoking brown cigarillos, telling the music media how she wasn't influenced by Joni.

The album cover

I really like this album cover. On the front, Joni's given us another self-portrait, in a casual, jaunty pose, but with a serious or neutral expression on her face. She's leaning on a television, which is showing another of her paintings -- a herd of wild horses, running fast. In the same room, used on the back cover, are a pair of women's shoes, black heels that appear hastily kicked-off.

We get two other Joni paintings, too: one of Joni and Klein, which was a study for this painting, "Solid Love". Also on the inside cover, there's another black-and-white study, a little glimpse of Joni the painter at work, or perhaps her mind at work. There's an art book, open to a two-page spread showing Matisse's "La Danse", a wicker chair that looks straight out of Paris, paints and brushes, and a painting of the shoes shown on the back cover.

I love how so many of Joni's paintings include a frame of some type -- a picture frame, the TV, a painting in a painting.

Cacti or stockings?

I think we're done with references to cactus and stockings.

Other musicians on this album

Drums, John Guerin, Vinnie Colaiuta
Bass, Larry Klein
Electric Guitar, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, Mike Landau
Prophet Synth, Larry Williams
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Tenor Sax, Larry Williams
Baritone Sax, Kim Hutchcroft
Oberheim Synth, Russell Ferrante
Percussion, Victor Feldman
Background vocals, Lionel Richie, Charles Valentino, Howard Kinney, James Taylor, John Guerin, Kenny Rankin, Robert De La Garza, Skip Cottrell

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