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Joni’s 1975 masterpiece reveals a near-perfect fusion of musical styles married to poignant observational songwriting
on 28 August 2016
Joni Mitchell’s seventh album release in 1975 saw her further develop the eclectic fusion of musical styles evident on ‘Court & Spark’ a year earlier. ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ was not well received on its release - ‘Rolling Stone’ even went so far as to nominate it “one of the worst albums of the year” - but the stature of this ambitious project has grown in later years as the adventurous sophistication of the songwriting becomes more evident with repeat-listening. Some even consider it to be Joni’s crowning achievement, her masterpiece.
THoSL has a style all its own, but one difficult to describe in the classic terms of musical genre. Strings, woodwind, brass, synthesizer and backing vocals are deployed carefully but selectively, giving each piece a different sound so there appears to be no unifying theme. Jazz influences predominate. Joni herself said of this project that she “tried to move away from the hit department to the art department" and it’s probably true to say that the result is a 1975 vision of what an arty rock/folk/jazz fusion album should sound like. It is both less commercial and less immediately accessible than its predecessor C&S.
Most of the song lyrics on THoSL are observational, de-personalized, themed on the life-experiences of other women in urban LA society: more stylistically Dylanesque in contrast to the deeply personal stories accompanied by acoustic guitar and piano which dominated Mitchell’s earlier songwriting.
THoSL is probably not the best starting point on a journey to discover Joni Mitchell’s rich and varied musical legacy; for that I would recommend any of the first four albums, especially ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ or ‘Blue’. If you have an appreciation and a feel for jazz, you’re also more likely to ‘get it’: approached from that direction, THoSL will reveal its delights.