Album box set reviews: Joni Mitchell, T. Rex, The Kinks and Abba

4CD set from Joni Mitchell (above) poses more questions than it answers

'Love Has Many Faces' presents Mitchell as a jazzy, torch song auteur
'Love Has Many Faces' presents Mitchell as a jazzy, torch song auteur

Joni Mitchell, Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced

I suppose that, being adept in so many other fields – poetry, painting, songwriting, jazz – it’s understandable that Joni Mitchell might want to explore ballet, too; although this themed 4CD collection poses more questions than it answers. Rather than the confessional folkie of her early albums, it presents her as a jazzier torch-song auteur, so we get the evocative 2000 reinterpretation of “Both Sides Now”, but less agreeably it means that oozing fretless bass swamps many of these 53 tracks. Yet there’s a great autobiographical essay about how Mitchell works, the way she uses mistakes or found sounds, such as the buzzing of a string against a fret, which affords revealing insights into her creative process.

****

T. Rex, The Albums Collection

I suppose that, being adept in so many other fields – poetry, painting, songwriting, jazz – it’s understandable that Joni Mitchell might want to explore ballet, too; although this themed 4CD collection poses more questions than it answers. Rather than the confessional folkie of her early albums, it presents her as a jazzier torch-song auteur, so we get the evocative 2000 reinterpretation of “Both Sides Now”, but less agreeably it means that oozing fretless bass swamps many of these 53 tracks. Yet there’s a great autobiographical essay about how Mitchell works, the way she uses mistakes or found sounds, such as the buzzing of a string against a fret, which affords revealing insights into her creative process.

***

The Kinks (Getty Images)

The Kinks, The Anthology 1964-1971

This 5CD set exploring The Kinks’ early incarnation demonstrates that even a gifted songwriter’s weaker material can pass muster with a great band, and that Ray Davies’ best songs – such as the piano demo of “I Go to Sleep” – will stun in their most naked form. No other track, by any artist, is as powerfully evocative of Swinging Sixties London as “Waterloo Sunset”, which manages to capture, through its melancholy undertow, the haze of retrospective nostalgia, as if Davies were predicting its future status. That’s extremely clever, and extremely potent. And the way The Kinks delivered his genius was usually definitive – there’s a reason why these songs were not widely covered: who wants to risk coming up short?

*****

Abba, The Studio Albums

There’s a disconnect between the sheer weight of this set, featuring 180gm vinyl editions of Abba’s eight albums, and the whipped, foamy lightness of the music. Originally credited to Björn Benny & Agnetha Frida, their debut, Ring Ring, employed a cruder version of the crafted pop they would later perfect. Waterloo established the formula of engaging harmonies and melodies at wedding-reception tempo, though the recipe quickly became formulaic with titles such as “Bang-A-Boomerang”. But “SOS” demonstrated the ambition that would reach fruition on Arrival and the ornate Abba: The Album; although they remained equally amenable to material as mature as “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and as dumb as “Dum Dum Diddle”.

****

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