42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
This is Joni's expert analysis of LA life, as both observer and ambilvalent participant. A masterpiece it definitely is.
I must disagree with those who have said that 'Jungle Line' is sub-standard, weak or horrid. It is a wonderful portrayal of innocense newly lost on arrival in the 'jungle' of LA. The metaphor of Rouseau's art and the sounds of burundi drums, Moog synth and Joni's voice and guitar, work hypnotically together to break up the smooth veneer of the album as a whole (representing the smooth veneer of LA itself!) exposing the lusting and dangerous 'belly of the beast'. I actually see 'Jungle Line' as one of Joni's finest tracks.
'Edith and the King Pin' is a fine study of how an LA millionaire builds up his charmed hareem, seducing with jewels, champagne and drugs, choosing his women like Rouseau would his shades of paint. Another beautifully detailed highlight.
This is one of Joni's masterpieces. Along with Hejira, Blue and Court & Spark, Summer Lawns represents her artistic maturing and daring as a writer. A fabulous collection
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2006
While Hejira is my favourite Joni album this record is fighting it out with 'For the Roses' for second place. The record generally has quite a laid back feel to it. The opener takes up from where 'Court and Spark' left off, after that however the album becomes more adventurous without compromising on melody. Some have cticised the 'the jungle line.' True it isn't in keeping with the rest of the album and for that reason it perhaps disrupts the record's rhythm. Yet it is undeniably innovative. Other tracks, especially 'Harry's House/Centrepiece' incorporate overt forays into jazz. All in all this is an essential and original album.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2008
Joni fans tend to divide between those those that prefer the naked confessional of 'Blue' and those that regard the jazzy trio of mid-70s albums that comprise 'Court & Spark', 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' and 'Hejira' to be her creative peak. I'm in the latter category.
I first heard this album in a musical instrument shop. they were playing 'Harry's House' and the line "A helicopter lands on the Pan-Am roof like a dragonfly on a tomb" caused me to ask the staff what it was. Joni's lyrics are cinematic - like little movie pitches - and beautifully evocative of that period. That track and the album's title investigate the dark side of the suburban dream, set to cool jazzy accompaniment that will make everything else you listen to sound crude.
Elsewhere 'The Jungle Line' discovers Burundi drums a good five years before Adam Ant. 'Edith and The Kingpin' has luscious orchestration that seems to literally seduce you and the multi-layered harmonies of 'Shadows & Light' indicate an artist that is at the peak of her game.
The fact that this got lukewarm reviews on its release either shows how clueless some journalists can be or demonstrates how far ahead Joni was. An astonishingly good album.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2007
Along with the more obvious Blue, this is Joni's most career defining record. Whilst the former perfected her internal, almost confessional work, The Hissing of Summer Lawns epitomises her role as observer, or even satirist, and her musicianship. Broadly speaking it is a concept album that juxtaposes the human, the animal, and the spiritual in a dense series of portraits of - mostly - Californian life. Think of David Lynch movies and you get a little bit of an idea - the title refers to the hiss of sprinklers on grass, the keeping up of appearances, repressing of darker desires... you get the picture. Elsewhere she explores drug cultures and exploitation (The Jungle Line and Edith & The Kingpin), suburban desperation (the title track, Harry's House) and ruminates on what it all means (the two closers). Throughout her lyricism, once sparse and raw, is lush and layered with imagery - Shades of Scarlett Conquering (a sharp look at a young socialite) both sounds like something from Hollywood's golden age and looks/reads like it e.g. "with her impossibly gentle hands and her blood red fingernails". The depth of playing with a small team of musicians and engineer Henry Lewy never falters - varyingly paced with layers of latin, jazz, and african influences co-existing alongside Joni's own keyboard and guitar work. It's an album that rewards almost constant playing year on year, never failing to reveal more light, more shade. Not only important for Mitchell but a landmark in modern music.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2001
Never far from my turntable tape or disc player - I keep the original gatefold for the languid photo of Joni and her integral artwork, though the vinyl itself (victim of the mid-seventies shortage and massive overplaying) sounds chafed and distant. The lyrics are diverse, complex and often obscure but will remain with you forever, opening gradually with repeated plays and experience. The tunes are always more than just that, from the optimism of the heady opener through to the album's dour and sardonic close. Yep, Joni does it for me!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2000
How can this piece of work possibly be allowed to go unheard? By turns romantic and savage, Mitchell's observations are wrapped in some of the most stunningly arranged sounds you will ever hear. All the tracks are standout; I couldn't even attempt to pick a favourite.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2006
This was Melody Maker's album of the year in 1975 or thereabouts, so I bought it, played it twice and put it aside as rather uninteresting. Oh foolish youth, I fortunately did not take it down the local student-fund-raising second-hand store, but listened again and became gradually entranced by the melodic and lyrical flair contained therein. Barely a poor moment (the Jungle Line - sorry! - the Centrepiece interlude and Shadows and Light don't sit well with the rest, just to be picky) - the good stuff just keeps on coming. In France they Kiss... followed by [er...OK, where's that skip button!] then Edith ... Don't Interrupt ... Shades of Scarlett ... Hissing ... Boho Dance ... Harry's House... Sweet Bird.... The rest are perfectly fine, but those 8 are sublime, 30+ years on.
I have failed in my attempts to get friends to love this, but I sometimes sit after everyone has gone to bed with a glass of wine, and wallow in the combination of current appreciation and nostalgic association which old favourites engender. Sigh!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2009
Blimey what an album this is. Joni forgets her own problems for once (not that there was anything wrong with that..) and looks outside - and doesn't much like what she sees. Bourgeois man (and woman - but mostly man) gets skewered - but beautifully, and with some self-deprecating wit - as she admits on `The Boho Dance' Joni likes her comforts as much as the rest of us.
The playing is sensational - it's often overlooked just what a good musician Joni Mitchell is - but her supporting cast on this album has probably never been bettered. The album is worth five stars for Larry Carlton's superb languid guitar on `Edith and the Kingpin' alone.
If I was to be picky I'd say that you can probably live without `Sweet Bird' but the rest are fantastic. The mid-album sequence of `Edith and the Kingpin', `Don't Interrupt the Sorrow' and `Shades of Scarlett Conquering' has to be heard to be believed.
Any chance of six stars?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2011
For many reasons I do not really like much of Joni Mitchell's music prior to this album. Confessional singer-songwriters, where the lyrics are analysed in terms of who they refer to backed by folk-pop is just not my thing - I should add that if it is your thing I think that it is quite clear that Joni is as good as it gets. This review is really aimed at letting people who think the same, just how great this particular record is. The move from folk influences towards jazz started on Court And Spark is here complete. The music is similar in some respects to Weather Report, but to these ears considerably more interesting. To suit these changes the songs are more open ended than before, shifting and changing as they progress. Combined with Joni's rich voice this makes for some gorgeous, adventurous music. Many of the tracks are highlights - In France, Edith And The Kingpin, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns and The Boho Dance. The absolute standout for me is the simply beautiful Shades Of Scarlett. Also of note is The Jungle Line, which with it's ethnic drums sounds at least 5 years ahead of it's time. Mitchell would follow this up with the almost as good Hejira (worth 5 stars though) but this sounds like a masterpiece.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2007
Joni Mitchell entered the studio to produce " Hissing" on the heels of the well deserved success she enjoyed with " Court and Spark". After years of confessional lyrics, from pastoral reflection ( Ladies of the Canyon") to inside-out musical expression ( the irrefutable "blue"), to more mature searchings on "For the Roses" and C&S, this fan thinks she earned the right to turn the conversation from "I" to "You".
However, when one looks at the lyrics, it's apparent that Mitchell didn't turn the lens away from herself altogther. In fact, she seems to be analyzing the decadence she finds herself a part of, or at least in a position to examine by proximity.
" In France They Kiss on the Main Street" is a delightful ode to early rock and roll, the images of 50's youth steaming in the dance halls and pool rooms. " The Jungle Line" is a pioneer in world music, long before Paul Simon, Sting or Peter Gabrielle thought to incorporate these elements( while these men are fine artists). The portrait ties primitive artist Rousseau's work to modern day colors, showing the similarities and differences between societie's ills and excess.
"Edith and the Kingpin", as well as "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" offer character studies of malice, while " Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Harry's House/Centerpiece" give two versions of the male/female drama, each with different results. "Harry's House" is, perhaps, the best song ever about the elusive nature of the fairy tale dreams most are sold. Men and women are skewered equally for superficial desires and complicit provocation.
Upon looking at the album as a concept, it is obvious that the arc involves manipulation and exploitation, with women being at the center of many of these songs, either as victim, perpetrator, or both. Religious symbolism abounds. Full attention is required to absorb the depth of this release.
The juxtaposition between the promise of the "dream" and the courage it takes to defy prescribed roles make this a great entree into 70's culture. Ahead of its time, "Hissing" changes the formula, but doesn't artistic license allow for this?