Having challenged herself to condense her 17 albums into a single disc of her best songs about love and heartbreak Joni Mitchell inevitably failed. She describes herself as a "painter of words" and this canvas was too constricting. As a consequence she has released "Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced" a unusual career-spanning four-disc collection focusing on the trials and tribulations of her romantic wanderlust and split into the following parts -
Act 1- Birth of the Rock n Roll Days
Act 2 - The light is hard to find
Act 3 - Love has many faces
Act 4 - If you want me i'll be in the bar.
Joni Mitchell has compared this work to the construction of a film. She told Rolling Stone that "I had 40 years of footage to review..... "Then, suddenly, scenes began to hook up". The good news about this set is a very nice remastering of tracks, 4 discs presented in a sturdy book like casing, all the songs lyrics easily readable and a fascinating introductory essay from Mitchell. In it she describes her songs as "a casting exercise". If so the cast list is unusual. Billy Idol plays the part of the bully in "Dancing Clown", while Tom Petty is the victim. Willie Nelson is cast a "desert rat" in "Cool Water" and on it goes.
The downside in this lavish collection is there is no new music to highlight, and no unrecorded gems or outtakes to digest (it would be nice to have a pristine version of "The Seeding of Summer Lawns" for example). Overall if you were to give this reviewer a choice between this set or the largely unmastered "The Studio Albums 1968-1979 Box set" containing ten of her best albums from the sublime seventies purple patch, then there would be no contest as the latter wins hands down. Listening to songs like "Harry House/Centrepiece" setting out the end of a "White picket fence dream" really only makes sense when preceded by "the Boho Dance" which is not present. Others like a "Blue's" sublime "A Case of You" is followed with the older Mitchell's smoky vocal on "Last time I saw Richard" from the orchestrated "Travelogue". In essence the pristine brilliance of the one exposes the weakness of the other. Equally as some one who would take a bullet for Joni Mitchell it still has to be recognised that much of her 1980s work left a lot to be desired not least "Dog eat Dog" jam packed full of musical mass-cult embraced synths and horrible production. Finally whilst "Night Ride Home" saw a career reboot in 1991 does it deserve better representation than songs from "Hissing" or more curiously the masterpiece that is "Hejira".
Ultimately it is Joni Mitchell so even the weaker songs simply mock those copyists who shall live forever in the shade of the greatest female writer of the past 50 years. The concept also does make you reconsider songs which have fallen down between the cracks, not least the wonders of the "Wolf who lives in Lindsay" from "Mingus" and "Hana" from her last full album "Shine" Yet in the last analysis there is something about this exercise which is does not fit properly and has a disjointed feel to it. The juxtaposition of songs from different eras and albums send you scurrying back to the originals begging the question would you recommend this set to anyone other than Joni Mitchell completists? The answer to that question is "yes" for if Mitchell sang the words from the train time-table between Cardiff and London this reviewer would get out the cheque book. But if you are approaching her music for the first time you would be well advised to start with "Blue", "Court and Spark", "Hissing of the Summer Lawns" and "Hejira" before heading in this eccentric if lovely direction.
Review by Red on Black