JONI MITCHELL: The Hissing of Summer Lawns. [Joni Mitchell and Henry Lewy, engineer; recorded at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, Cal.] Asylum 7E-1051.
Recording: Highly textured
Joni Mitchell is probably the most commercial pop artist we have. Each time a new album is released, the voices rise as a Greek chorus: brilliant, but too weird, too difficult to absorb, you have to play it too often before you can get into it. And each time we play it as often as necessary, letting the weirdness filter through us, latching on to the lyrics or vocal effects or details in the cover art. The real fans have come to expect nothing less. Even Miles of Aisles, the "live" double-album released prior to The Hissing of Summer Lawns, held surprises in the jazzy reprises of old tunes. If Miles can in any way be considered a summary to that point in time (I believe it can), Hissing is an attempt to travel a new path.
The universality of Ms. Mitchell's earlier songs - "Urge For Going," "Both Sides Now," "Circle Game" - is gone. The settings are, as stated, jazzier and more sophisticated now - Ms. Mitchell herself overdubbing many of the synthesizer and multiple vocal tracks - and the lyrics a wellspring of impressionistic musings. And there is great unity of voice, lyric and melody, sometimes at the expense of coherency. Contrast, for example, the flowing essence of "The Boho Dance" with the insistent rhythm-as-statement of "The Jungle Line." Or imagine a three-minute cartoon of "In France They Kiss on Main Street." Sometimes one wishes Ms. Mitchell's language were French.
Hissing has its failings, mostly in its over-ambitiousness and in the lack of real subject matter in its songs. But if form has overtaken content it is in the name of etching out a new approach. Besides, we need something to complain about.
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