Hits

Not Rated

Joni Mitchell's rich body of work is ill-served by best-of cherry-picking. She has had few true hit singles to speak of, and most of those came early in her career. As a result, Hits is both predictable and misleading — heavy on the giggly pop of "Big Yellow Taxi" and "Raised on Robbery," and the folk-maiden romanticism of her late-'60s albums "Clouds" and "Ladies of the Canyon," yet lacking any of the avant-pop provocation of her essential mid-'70s releases ("The Hissing of Summer Lawns," the underrated "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter"). And Mitchell does herself, and the structural integrity of her records, a grave disservice by filing extracts from fine recent efforts such as "Night Ride Home" and "Turbulent Indigo" under the title "Misses." As one of the most eloquent and enduring innovators in popular music, regardless of gender, Joni Mitchell repays much deeper examination. It's a predictable rock-critic thing to say, but you're better off exploring the whole catalog.

Elvis Costello puts his own contrary spin on the greatest-misses idea, covering songs that he originally wrote for artists as disparate as Byrd man Roger McGuinn, British folk singer June Tabor and former New Wave pinup Wendy James. In fact, this is Costello's finest record in years; the hearty melodies and the Attractions' taut accompaniment give weight and frame to Costello's strong, confident singing. And because he crafted these songs for other voices, Costello works his favorite turf — emotional treachery ("It's Time"), hard falls for big phonies ("Starting to Come to Me," "You Bowed Down") — with wordplay that rides easy, not heavy, on the tongue.

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