The new Joni Mitchell box set, Love Has Many Faces, released yesterday, contains peerless music - in a disappointing package.
Make no mistake - the box is a superlative collection of music. It demonstrates how Joni Mitchell's songbook surpasses those of nearly all other twentieth century musicians. Love Has Many Faces is an admirable selection from her catalogue: some of this material is simply celestial - people will be enjoying it a hundred years hence.
And the package is well-designed, housing CDs, a Joni Mitchell commentary and lyrics in a stylish book-shaped box.
The art of the box, though, is underwhelming. Having owned the music for decades, I ordered Love Has Many Faces for the packaging, especially the "Six new paintings" promised in the promo. There are, in fact, only two "paintings", the lovely self-portrait on the front cover and what look like several fragments of another painting inside.
The "paintings" are printed as part of the box: you can't frame and hang them on your wall, as I was hoping, perhaps naively. So the new Joni Mitchell box set is hardly a must-have rock art collectable.
Other disappointments? The "book", promoted on the product sticker as a "52-page autobiographical novelette by Joni Mitchell", turns out to be a 16-page essay by the musician, plus lyrics and production details.
Joni Mitchell's piece, an intermittently absorbing account of the process of creating this compilation, is diminished by some graceless passages.
The "53 lyrical poems" heralded in the promo are, er, the songs' lyrics.
The recordings are proudly promoted as "digitally remastered": I'm not sure that many buyers really care.
Embarrassingly, the new Joni Mitchell box set contains a loose insert facsimile of a hand-written letter from Joni apologising for the fact that the track list on CD2 is incorrect.
And my order, impressively delivered by Amazon on release day, contained three, not four, CDs. I'm not sure who's to blame, but record label Rhino must be the default prime suspect.
I'm a Joni Mitchell fan - I find her songwriting, singing and musicianship deeply impressive, often inspiring. I admire her cantankerous refusal to accept horse crap. I also enjoy her painting: Joni Mitchell is a key rock artist.
But Love Has Many Faces is a missed opportunity. A more ambitious artefact - a few rarities on the CDs, a bigger book, with more Joni text, a few paintings (loose, frame-able), some photos - would have been a more appropriate showcase for such an outstanding talent.
Had Rhino released such a product, they could have bumped up the price. And they could have published a deluxe limited edition, at a much higher price.
Love Has Many Faces, the new Joni Mitchell box set, could have been a contender. Sadly, it's a misfire.
It's not too late: a songbook as stellar as Joni Mitchell's demands a more fitting celebration.
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