The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975)
By 1975, a distinct strain of disenchantment had become a recurring theme in Mitchell’s work. Only four years earlier, she sang “They won’t give peace a chance/ that was just a dream some of us had,” but this disillusionment is crystallized on 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, an album that attempts to reconcile the Joni Mitchell of Ladies Of The Canyon with a character that is decidedly more vengeful, critical, and needle-sharp. “The Boho Dance” cynically considers the trappings of bourgeois cooptation, while “Edith And The Kingpin” follows a Luciferian lothario who seduces both disco dancers and plainclothes police alike, and whose women “grow old too soon.” The latter song’s lyrics are Fagan-worthy (“Sophomore jive/ from victims of typewriters/ the band sounds like typewriters”) while a captivating arrangement contains delicate, almost imperceptible variations, like a jazz standard broken down into molecules and reassembled into strange new shapes. Even better is “The Jungle Line,” a song that brilliantly manages to use a work by enigmatic post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau to describe the trappings of highbrow white Bohemia, ridiculing jazzbo affectations while conceding an attraction to the irresistible, exotic quasi-primitivism that inspires them. The ekphrasis alone is commendable enough — there are not nearly enough songs inspired by paintings — but it is the music of “The Jungle Line” that really stuns. Mostly comprised of a clipped, heavily distorted sample of Burundi drumming, some field recordings, and the sort of thick, funky Moog that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Chronic, “The Jungle Line” still sounds ahead of its time, blending jazz, musique concrete and what would soon unimaginatively become known as “world music” (the song beats My Life In The Bush of Ghosts by six years, Graceland by eleven). Experimental, funky, and sophisticated, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns is the ideal gateway drug for any music fan that still insists on associating Mitchell with capos and coffeehouses.