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Joni Mitchell's 'Love Has Many Faces' records her 40-year love affair Print-ready version

by Michael Cheang
The Star Online (Malaysia)
January 23, 2015

Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced, is no mere greatest hits compilation. It is a four-disc collection featuring 53 newly remastered songs that the legendary singer-songwriter recorded throughout her 40-year career, all personally curated and sequenced in a way that reflects her personal vision of love.

Mitchell first conceived the collection as a ballet about love, but after spending 18 months trying to distil everything she'd written about love (and the lack of it) down to a single disc, the singer abandoned the idea.

"I wanted the music to feel like a total work - a new work. No matter what I did, though, at that length, it remained merely a collection of songs," she writes in the set's liner notes.

Undaunted, Mitchell continued to sequence her songs, and after two years, she finally came up with Love Has Many Faces, a four-act "ballet" comprising 53 songs, organised the music into different thematic acts.

During an exclusive phone interview from the US, The Star managed to speak to the 71-year-old singer-songwriter about the entire process of making Love Has Many Faces. According to Mitchell, she wanted something that was more than just a collection of songs.

"I wanted to make something new out of the old material, so that even all the people who already have all my music can agree that it would be a new journey. I feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do," she says.

Going through 40 years of songs was no simple task though, and Mitchell admits that at times, she started questioning her own work. "I did go through that in the beginning. I didn't listen to any music at all, I just did it all in my head, sequencing it," she says, adding that she initially tried to get everything down to one hour.

"I couldn't get it done. Trying to get all this into one disc was pretty hard. Emotionally, there was no time for it to develop within an hour. There are so many nuances to relationships ... I wanted glimpses of how we can learn to love one another in the midst of all the failures, and to some degree, what love is, what love isn't, how we muddle along and try to be loving ..."

The way Mitchell went about it also means that there was no place for some of her more recognisable hits. Songs like River, A Case Of You, You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio, and Both Sides, Now are in there, but conspicuous by its absence is the iconic pro-environment Big Yellow Taxi, which Mitchell says just didn't fit the theme of love and relationships.

It wasn't the first time she's had to make tough decisions about her music though.

"When I made my first album, I had like, 60 songs. From those 60 songs, I made a concept album, like what I'm doing this time - it had two parts, I Came To The City and Out Of The City and Down To The Seaside," she says.

"I had to leave out songs like Both Sides Now, and Circle Game, which were hits before I ever got a record deal, so I'm used to this kind of thinking - trying to make an album that is a whole, like an opera, and get a storyline going through it."

Mitchell's unconventional non-chronological sequencing means that the music differs in styles from song to song, for instance, jumping from the gentler, folksier sounds of 1971's Blue to the jazzier songs of 1975's Hissing Of Summer Lawns.

According to her, the record company initially wanted it to be in chronological order, but she insisted that it should not be that way.

"I said, no, no, no. I've got 24-year-old Joni next to 65-year-old Joni ... it invites comparison, like OK, this younger Joni can hold her notes a little longer, and can sing any note ... I'm quite pleased with the juxtaposition of voices here," she reasons.

Besides picking and sequencing the songs in the collection, Mitchell personally assembled the impressive package the four discs come in, which includes a book with 53 lyrical poems, six new paintings, and an autobiographical text illuminating her recording process.

All in all, the box set took two years to complete, which begs the question - what was the point where she thought it was finally finished?

"I just got closer, closer and closer to the deadline! At the last minute, I changed the beginning of Act Two, and added Court And Spark and Trouble Child, and that caused everything to shift.

"I turned in the artwork and liner notes while I was still working on the music, so everything had gone to print. By that time we couldn't change that so I put in a note of apology in the box, so that's what it's about," she says, adding that she was still having ideas about the sequencing right to the very last minute.

"It wasn't easy to get it to my degree of satisfaction. I could have kept on going, but there comes a point when you have to abandon it," she concludes."

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