Just as "Blue" had the faithful questioning her sanity and the big productions of the 1980s threw many followers aside with their superstar associations, "Shine" is a challenge to those expecting conventional balladeering or even the directness of protest bombast which she does so well. The tunes are poignant, the words, as ever, witheringly astute, the structures and arrangements often odd. The opener, for example, a song without words and stuttering digital clipping that made me think at first the CD was flawed. Endings sometimes sudden and unsettling.
There is preaching, however, few preachers have earned her right to protest "Your" impending self destruction, or "Our" fate, in just those terms. Blame is, directed as it was in the 1960's at the international capitalist conspiracy. Praise is aimed, similarly, at small personal endeavour and the voice of nature. This is intensly angry music dressed in blue cool and I for one am glad the anger is back. Her "cover" of "Big Yellow Taxi", once issues as a 7" with "Woodstock" on the reverse, is a reminder of this, all be it lacking in the insulted intelligence of the orignal. As with "A Case of You", on "Both Sides Now"(2000), I find my intense feeling for the original clouds my view of their updating and rephrasing, and I question their necessity as they are both utterly timeless songs.
I believe the bitterness she once expressed towards the music industry, that bred success for the likes of Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, Tori Amos and hundreds more, has subsided and what is coming through in these new expressions is a kinship with her craft; that of writer.
Her quicksilver adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's "If" which concludes the set is almost prayer-like in this context and set against her own questions about the purpose of God and critique of political power in "Strong and Wrong" ups the stakes on the pouting of young singer songwriters of the current generation and their view of the state of human kind.
My only reservation is that arranging and instrumentation are not always assured, though she is, by and large, frugal, tasteful and painterly with her use of natural and synthetic sounds. After indulging in the work of Wayne Shorter's soprano sax warbling for many years, in my view sometimes to excess, one of her few instrumental collaborators here is a Shorter copycat.
There are hints here of a move away from conventional song forms into abstraction with words and music more akin to the work of Steve Reich or Lamont Young. Whatever her style, if the emphasis is on the words and music, not hung up on how it is dressed, it will always be welcomed.