1975’s Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell’s follow-up to the masterful Court and Spark, opens with the infectious pop-rocker “In France They Kiss on Main Street.” But it’s a misleading tease. Indeed, Hissing was not as immediately or warmly embraced as its predecessor precisely because it veered far from such confections into the realms of jazz and the abstract. These musical excursions would soon absorb Mitchell completely. The opening track is misleading lyrically as well. Far from its sunny, romantic sentiments—“Kisses like bright flags hung on holidays”—the remainder of the album delves into the perils of suburban existence. About the most romantic thing Mitchell can summon in that context is a begrudging, “Still, she stays with a love of some kind.”
Listening all these years later, it’s still the tracks with one foot in the past and one in the future that fare best. Tracks like “Edith and the Kingpin” and the title cut succeed not through musical experimentation but by combining haunting melodies with dark lyrics and edgy arrangements. They make the album worth owning.
Unfortunately, the original CD doesn’t do the music any favors. Its sound is washed out and monodynamic. Hissing features some adventurous instrumentation, but on the CD it all sounds pretty much the same. The 96/24 download is blessedly superior. Gone is the CD’s digital patina, replaced by a relaxed, natural, and effortless sound. The download also restores timbres, bass, and a modicum of dynamics. Instruments that are supposed to stand out, like a ride cymbal, finally do. So do Max Bennett’s inventive bass lines. HDtracks also offers the album at 192/24. This version, I’ll grant you, is ever so slightly more open than the 96/24 file. However, the bulk of the improvements over the CD can be had at 96/24.