Instead of continuing to review her albums in order, I'm arbitrarily jumping 23 years to "Dog Eat Dog", typically her most hated (least loved?) album.
This was recorded smack dab in the middle of the 80's, and production wise, you can tell. Thomas Dolby (along with Joni's then husband, Larry Klein) were responsible for much of the sound; lots of synthesizers, those tinny sounding 80's drums, etc. Frankly, it sounds awfully dated..especially at first, if you're used to Joni's delicate, stark works like "Blue".
As for the lyrics, this is Joni's angriest album for sure. She's pissed off about a lot of things here - corruption, lies, greed, materialism, etc. Nope, Joni was not a big fan of the Reagan era. Thus, although the musical portion sounds dated, the lyrical sentiments are still very relevant today.
Although she's angry at society, the music isn't harsh or anything. The tunes are pretty accessible, actually. "Good Friends" (in which Michael McDonald lends his soulful voice at times), for example, is a highly catchy slice of pop music.
"Fiction" also works the 80's pop/rock formula well. Driving beat, lots of keyboards, powerful hook. "Tax Free" is a brutal attack on televangelists (specifically, Jimmy Swaggart seems to be the target). The melody (tense, creeping verses lead into a powerful chorus) is compelling, the message is spot on; one of her best songs for me.
Although not much of a song, "Smokin' (Empty, Try Another)" is probably the only song to feature a cigarette machine at the main instrument. If nothing else, it's a haunting little piece.
Songs like "The Three Great Stimulants" and the title track set their politically charged lyrics (about corruption and greed, namely) to a more subdued soundtrack. They're a bit more organic sounding, but still have that 80's keyboard/synth based sound (which describes much of the material on her next album, "Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm"..but that's another review for another day).
The anti-materialism rant "Shiny Toys" has lots of gimmicky sound effects; though it's upbeat and insanely catchy to me. So I can forgive the somewhat grating production. Not so upbeat sounding is "Ethiopia" (Joni's answer to all those "Save the Children" campaigns which effectively gave money to a corrupt government), backed by a haunting piano arrangement from Joni. This actually would have been more effective with *just* the piano (think of how well it worked for songs like "The Arrangement" and "River"). But they don't go too overboard here with additional production, so it's still very good.
Joni seemingly dedicates "Impossible Dreamer" to one John Lennon (although it works for Martin Luther King and some others as well). It's a beautiful sentiment, and a lush, beautiful song.
The closing song "Lucky Girl" is a buoyant pop tune, and easily the most upbeat lyrical statement on here (a celebration of her relationship with Klein). It almost feels out of place in that regard!
So, is this a "misunderstood masterpiece"? Are people idiots for not liking it? No to both, actually. There's not much to misunderstand about this. I can see how people might think the lyrics are too preachy. Not everyone likes real political lyrics. Also, the sound. Compared to any of her 60's and 70's stuff, this is a harsh change (her voice is also getting lower, much in part from her smoking habit probably). These are all valid reasons for disliking this album.
Personally though, I really got into these songs after a few listens. Her political statements, although obvious at times, are spot on in my book. The melodies are really strong too. Considering its usual status as "worst Joni album", it's an easy winner for "most underrated" in my book.
"Dog Eat Dog is a spectacular sonic production unlike any of Joni Mitchel's other Albums. The sound is clean, bright, and multi-layered. Over a decade later, it still SOUNDS good. Although lovers of Joni's earlier folk-based songs complained about it, Joni's legion of fans did music a great diservice by staying away in droves from this very accomplished album. Joni's political and social commentary has always been one of the key reasons her fans love her, and those elements were in the fore here. It's shameful that the SOUND she and producer Thomas Dolby crafted wasn't embraced by Joni's fans. Maybe Joni, Dolby and a host of top talents doing cameos were having TOO MUCH fun for these "fans." To make matters worse, Radio had created many casual Joni-fans with "Big Yellow Taxi," and then failed to capitalize on that programming success with any of four tracks on Dog Eat Dog that have the same endearing feel of "Big Yellow Taxi," but with the added edge only a more mature Joni Mitchel could contribute. No other Joni Mitchel album has as much sonic scope as Dog Eat Dog, from Actor Rod Steiger's faux-christian exortations to Joni accompanying herself with an empty cigarette machine. Maybe fans found Dog Eat Dog too "theatrical." But that "theatricallity" allowed Joni to deliver a full helping of some of her best social and personal observations, bouyed-up with some of the most tuneful and catchy melodies of her career. Dog Eat Dog opened the door to a Pop-Rock landscape that hardcore fans should have supported, so that Joni would have an ongoing "commercial" outlet for her deservedly loved talents. True fans admire her Jazz-influenced later work, and hold her early "folk" work in a very special place in their hearts. To not have a follow-up to Dog Eat Dog is a great -- and ongoing -- loss. Dog Eat Dog was a very viable "commercial" sound that could have kept Joni on the radio. It's commercial "failure" was the fault of the fans and Radio Station Program Directors -- not Joni's. There is a reason that a woman, and a "non-rocker," is one of the most important inductions in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Do yourself a favor. Buy this Album. You'll find that you put it on a lot more that some of her other (exquisite) Albums. Cruising with the top down and Joni Mitchel cranked up? Believe it."
Techo-funky-jazzy Joni !
Mad Ludwig III | 10/22/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"OK, some people just can't dig Joni in this mode. When this album was released it was panned, probably because it was so...different. But different is what makes Joni tick, musically, and is why this fan digs her so much. I dig the techno-funk social criticism of Fiction and the edgy, middle-of-night rock of The Three Great Stimulants. Best of all, there's the disarming, dreamy Impossible Dreamer, one of her best tunes. Dog deserves a higher place in the annals of pop criticism. If it had been released with a newer artist's name and face on the cover, it would have been hailed as innovative, literate, meticulously produced mid-80's pop. That's how I still hear it, even if the artist who created it wasn't "supposed" to do techno-funky-jazzy. Right on, Joni."
Continually surprised, ever-evolving Joni
Matt Jones | Athens, GA | 01/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off, I'm 26, and didn't "discover" Joni until 1997, as a freshman in college completely blown away by Blue. Immediately, I started buying Joni albums, reading reviews, and forming my initial impressions of her musical-poetic canon.
Secondly, my first reactions to Wild Things Run Fast, Dog Eat Dog and Chalkmark in a Rainstorm were overwhelmingly negative. Where were the acute, aching lyrics of Blue and Hejira? The jazz exploration of Hissing of Summer Lawns or Don Juan's Reckless Daughter? The angular melodies, declamatory vocals, and heavily electronic soundscapes really turned me off.
Fortunately, as a music major at The University of Georgia, I was continually challenging my own concept and definition of music.
Though not for the Joni novice, Dog Eat Dog is, without a doubt, Joni's overall best album from the 80s. Sonically, it's as far from traditional or anticipated Joni as one can get, but the trademarks are still there: infectious melodies, poignant lyrics, and a clarity of purpose few other artists can assert with such a radical stylistic departure.
Akin to the perspective shift she made on Hissing of Summer Lawns, which was ill-received at its debut as well, Joni turns her introspective eye outward, disassembling and dissecting society, politics and 80s out-of-control materialism with the same intensity she once used on herself. Lyrically, these songs rank with her best 70s works. "The Three Great Stimulants," itself makes the CD worth owning.
This album should not shock, though it will continually surprise you. Each listen yields deeper appreciation and understanding, as layer upon layer of sound, meaning, artisanship reveal themselves. In the age of hybrid genres and electronic music, this album is less jarring but no less powerful. Few artists today are writing electronic music this powerful and lasting. Perhaps Joni was decades ahead of the industry once again, as she was with her jazz-folk-world fusions in the 70s. Wouldn't surprise me at all.
Craig Marsden | Burton, MI USA | 02/20/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bought this on vinyl the year that it came out and hated it. Made the big mistake other Joni fans of yesteryear had so sorrily made of holding this offering up in juxtaposition to her earlier albums of the late 60's/early 70's.
Then whilst cleaning out the storage shed the other day, I came upon a box full of old records I had forgotten about. Interestingly, DOG EAT DOG was on top, so I proceeded to brush it off, bring it in the house, and jack up the ol' grammaphone. I can only say that from that point on, I became transfixed and transported. Had I really changed so much in these last 18 years, or was Joni just that much more ahead of her time...or both? The answer to that is academic and unimportant when held up against this important and vital music. Colors, textures, layer upon layer of synthy/guitar impressions---AND THOSE LYRICS!! And then there is all that space and silence in-between; the kind that only Thomas Dolby could have unimagined.
The only thing left now is to get this on CD and then hold on to the record for not only posterity's sake, but for a time when perhaps we live in a world that can hear and feel and touch and love and envision on a level somewhere close to the genius of this woman."