Chalk Marks in a Rainstorm

by Chris Dafoe
Toronto Globe and Mail
March 31, 1988

Mitchell's first album in three years is an eclectic and generally satisfying return to form after 1985's lacklustre Dog Eat Dog.

The albums are not dissimilar: the synthesizer seems to be Mitchell's instrument of choice these days and, like Dog Eat Dog, Chalk Marks is topical, touching on war, consumerism, Indian land claims and achiever society.

But where Dog Eat Dog buzzed and thumped like a cross between video game and an electrofunk record, Chalk Marks demonstrates a more delicate touch. Rather than thudding basslines and treated voices, Mitchell has relied on gentle washes of keyboards, more complex rhythms and a bevy of familiar voices - including Billy Idol, Willie Nelson and Peter Gabriel - which provide counterpoint to her high, distinctive voice on songs such as Mitchell's My Secret Place and the old chestnut Cool Water.

But if Mitchell has found her feet (and her voice) in the muddle of new technology, her attempts at topicality are still occasionally awkward and heavy-handed.

Lakota, a song for the Hopi Indians, walks a tightrope between tribute and caricature, and her audio collage on The Reoccurring Dream, a satire of advertising culture, is clever. But like her portrayal of yuppiedom in songs such as Number One and Snakes and Ladders, her dismissal of advertising comes off a little like shooting fish in a barrel - the target is more appropriate to the schtick of a third-rate stand-up comic than someone of Mitchell's considerable talent and stature.

There's nothing wrong with being timely, but Mitchell's superficial treatment of some of these shop-worn topics often leaves one wondering if the album's title - with its suggestion of the ephemeral - might not be applied to the record itself.


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