The Hissing of Summer Lawns


Would Joni still be beloved if she’d followed up the romantic deconstructions and L.A. session-cool of Court and Spark with an album every bit as commercially/critically crowdpleasing? Probably. But instead she internalized the lesson that success gives you a license to get weird, and The Hissing of Summer Lawns saw her given free reign to push her sound in a way that evaporated most of her Laurel Canyon peers’ increasingly myopically mellow albums on contact. Going from the familiar-yet-heightened romanticism of leadoff cut/lead single “In France They Kiss on Main Street” to the queasy Moog and proto-sample Burundi-beat assembly-line fever sweat of “The Jungle Line” is merely this album’s most startling bit; the emotional bleakness of the title cut, in which a woman is reduced to living like a piece of status-symbol furniture in a rich man’s house in the hills, is the most haunting. And her songwriting, delivered through her voice at its most nuanced and embittered, has rarely been matched in its expressions of “where the hell did I wind up” ennui — no wonder, when the answers are a dead-end counterculture (“The Boho Dance”),  a looming anti-feminist backlash (“Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow”), and, in the jaw-dropping multitrack-voiced closing cut “Shadows and Light”, the burden of perceptive observation itself.

Nate Patrin