The immediate critical evaluation of 1975's Hissing of Summer Lawns was not kind. Rolling Stone declared the album the worst of the year, and suggested that Joni Mitchell had both run out of melodic ideas and gave too much room for the "cliche-ridden" support of Tom Scott's L.A. Express.
So I was surprised when my step brother suggested he dub a CD copy of the album for me. And even more surprised how, over time, I've come to enjoy the album as much anything in the Joni repertoire barring Blue.
The lyrics are full of an artist's arched eyebrow-ed observations of suburban life:
He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns
Some of the jazz sounds dated, but there are also slices of world music on the album --like the Burundi drums on "The Jungle Line", presaging Echo and the Bunnymen's live Burundi drummer collaboration "Zimbo" by seven years.
Hissing of Summer Lawns may be one of the best reminders that an album that divides critics is worth our attention. Time has proved Joni was right all along. And if we need further proof, no less an expert than Prince has called Hissing his favorite all time album.
SOUNDS ALBUMS 1975 critics poll
1. The Hissing Of Summer Lawns - Joni Mitchell
2. Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan
3. Natty Dread - Bob Marley And The Wailers
4. The Who By Numbers - The Who
5. Still Crazy After All These Years - Paul Simon
6. Caught Up - Millie Jackson
7. Back To The Night - Joan Armatrading
8. Nils Lofgren - Nils Lofgren
9. Visions Of The Emerald Beyond - Mahavishnu Orchestra
10. Hot! Menu! - Sadistic Mika Band