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Review of Dog Eat Dog   Print

by Marcel Deste
JoniMitchell.com
August 8, 2000

I have been following this Dog Eat Dog thing for a long time on this list. Some love it most (it seems) dont. For all the debate I couldnt figure out the validity of either argument. I had never heard the album and the cover REALLY turned me off. (will someone please give Joni a big doughnut). I love all of Jonis albums and I only have a couple left to listen to. I mentioned when I found a cheap copy of DED in the used bin I couldnt resist. Said I would review it for fun. Must have received 20 mails already some defending it some saying dont waste your time. Nothing gets dander up and euphoria raging quite like "Best song or album" debates on the JMDL. So here goes. I was prepared for one thing. Those who like or love this album always refer to it as a statement of the times or a sort of cultural timepiece. In that regard it is superb. The sound is a classic of the times with its guitar and synth effects, pounding drums and shiny effects. While there are some lyrics that are a mirror of the time I found others to be more a mirror of Jonis world. So a reflection of the times it is. Of course that sword cuts both ways as you will see from my fearless commentary. Donning the asbestos suit I take the plunge....

Good Friends
The sound of this powerful production is the best possible music to have blaring on your car radio while driving on the LA Freeways. Its MTV, its LA, its Miami Vice soundtrack material, its slick, clean, clear, and has monster hit potential, but it isnt Joni. The first song has the mark of the beast as far as the eighties is concerned. Michael MacDonalds voice. You see a song cant be an Eighties song unless former Doobie Brother Michael MacDonald sings on it. Statistics from the Office of Management and Budget have shown that he sang on 97.365 % of every hit song ever done in the entire decade with the exception of Happy days are Here Again at the 1988 Demo convention and the Star Spangled Banner at the Superbowl although that tape is being rechecked to make sure. In the 80s however if you didnt have the voice that sang What A Fool Believes on your newest product you weren't officially part of the LA Music Mafia (LAMM) which included Davids Foster and Geffen and members of Toto. What is noteworthy about this is that his voice is singularly uninteresting on this song with the exception of his yelpy, signiture, high harmony. His voice plainly doesnt blend well with Jonis. In one place they are singing the same notes but his voice is so thin it does nothing to blend with Jonis. There are a few McDonald lines that it took about 10 listens before I realized he was actually singing. And who else is on this album but Steve Lukather the premier lead guitar gun (Toto) of all time who also was on every song done in the entire decade (if he wasnt then Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai was).Why I mention this is because this is the first clue as to the fact that Joni by this time was seemingly trapped in the deepest part of the jaws of the LA music industry. Which frequently did things mostly because they were being successfully done by other artists. Whatever worked everyone else tried to copy, just like with the film industry. Unfortunately the goddess of prose (Joni) produces perhaps the mose banal lyrics she has ever written for this song. Remember the songs theme is meeting a friend...

Sometimes change comes at you
like a broadside accident
There is chaos to the order
Random things you can't prevent
There could be trouble around the corner
There could be beauty down the street
Synchronized like magic
Good friends you and me


[ yo...joan....wazzup with this]

No hearts of gold
No nerves of steel
No blame for what we can
and cannot feel...........(and if you cant think of anything else to write, hey, reverse the lines order, cooool)


No nerves of steel
No hearts of gold
No blame for what we can and
can't control
Good friends you and me


[NB. How unprofound can you get yet the words sound so good together. Words like 'steel' 'gold' and 'blame' are known, effective, lyric power words. You find them in many songs but here they are all strung together. Hmmmm. Sort of the rock-equivalent of the country power lyrics, Mama, ma burnin' heart, ma dowg and ma truck. They each work well in a song but when you string them all together its overdone]

Now there above is the most powerful lyric in the song. Sheesh. Remember this is one of the greatest poets of the generation. Words are her paints. So whats up with this blather. Of course someone will find "deep meaning" in this stuff but I really think they are weak by her standards. What does getting together with a good friend have to do with the words in this song, nada.Well thats all part of the involvemnent with the LAMM. In the 80s songs had to fit the formula. or else. While nothing was ever better than 80's LA production values the lyrics were often the result of too much blow meeting too many pretensions. Song lyrics became formulaic. Certain words (like the ones above)started showing up in every song that was produced by that system. My personal impression on this song is that Joni had less (if not lost) control of the creation process. The "synchronized like magic" line is a typical LAMM creation in which words that sound good together have no meaning.

While the lyrics are in my opinion weak, the music tracks are pure LA sound and wonderful. I love the production on this album and this song. The producer used a synth as a timing track and the tracks shine. As the sharp and clear as crystal synth bass with the double scratch click track jump out of your speakers you cant help but picture yourself on the LA Freeway buzzing along above the limit, at least I cant. Who cares what the words mean, right? So although Joni got Pa Pa ooh mau mau'd on this song lyric wise, I'll give it an 7 1/2 because it sounds so good. I call this a 'bimbo" song. You wouldnt take it seriously it but it sure looks good.

Fiction
Ah yes those incredible drum tracks. I end up with a problem on this song. Even after numerous listens I cant remember a strong melodic passage. The producers were so in love with the sound of The Police and the Pretenders that they pushed for that sound and succeeded. They even forced Joni to sing like Chrissy Hinde (check out her inflection on the line 'image makers"). If one likes the Pretenders they will love this song because it sounds like every one of their songs. The form and the structure is a knock off. I would swear that Chrissy is playing the guitar and Stewart Copeland the drums. I KNOW they stole her (Chrissy Hinde's) equipment. Joni actually does a real close Chrissy Hinde vocal imitation; so much so in fact that she doesnt sound as much like Joni as she does Chrissy. Jonis imitating virtually all of Chrissy's inflections and coming damn close to her accent. Scary. While I may sound critical its still well done and in the terms of the LAMM it "works". Of course a multi-million dollar studio frequently does. I do think they missed their chance to have Sting do a background wailing "I want my MTV" like he did for Knopfler on Money for Nothing. But as I said the music works. The verses are sung in a sort of monotonish hue of little emotional content leading into choruses that have the great synth hook and cheery atmosphere. Unlike the first song the lyrics here are also sparse but possibly among the most revealing (of her current mood) of all of Jonis songs (or are they Kleins).

Fiction of the moralist
Fiction of the nihilist
Fiction of the innovator and the stylist
Fiction of the killjoy
Fiction of the charmer
Fiction of the clay feet and the shining armour
Fiction of the declaimers
Fiction of the rebukers
Fiction of the pro and the no nukers
Fiction of the gizmo
Fiction of the data
Fiction of the this is this and that is that ahh!


I got a strong sense that Joni knew she was in the clutches of this thing called the muisc industry to the point where it was beginning to drain her of her identity and her self. Was that lifestyle-induced or not I dont know but the verse here is revealing. I sort of picture her as a person waking up the next morning sitting on her bed wondering whether she should get up or not. A person to whom it has suddenly occurred how far she is away from what she was and what she wanted to be. "Your not in Saskatoon Toto". All her ideals are revealed to be trash. Shes lashed to the ferris wheel as opposed to the merry-go-round. Big time Up and down as opposed to round and round. Nothing is making sense to her as the lyrics are clearly saying and I am mostly referring to her music. From the melodic folk era to Hejira style suddenly Joni is seemingly yeilding to the ideas of others.

The song is very much different than any one that we know or strongly suspect that Joni had the final say in production and mixing. It seemed to me that she played the song on a guitar for "the boys" and they immediately went off and imposed their own style and feel. I could even imagine them telling her how it would go down. Production decisions already made maybe even tracks laid down prior to her entering the studio . I sensed that she is being pushed and cattle prodded in a direction that she knows is not "her". There is a feeling of exasperation in her voice when I listen to this song. Like a prisoner of war blinking S-O-S to the camera while they praise the enemy for the folks back home. However the classic LA sound which can turn any song into a viable product works on this as well. As such in spite of its knock off police style makes this a very strong song music and lyric wise.

Ill give it an 7 1/2.

The Three Great Stimulants
I started to really like this song the third time I heard it. The first time I was distracted by the 'tick' track which again was a scourge of the 80s production values where the producers first discovered the Fairlight and the "good" drum machines and felt that this gave them perfection. Of course it also liberated their recording sessions from cranky to the max over coked drummers. And it also liberated the song from the atmosphere that can only come from a live drummer. The drum tracks on this song are those statement scale bouncing between speakers single blams that became the precurser of the modern movie sound track in which every little bit of sound becomes equal to the crash of a train. They perfected the drum track in the 80s and no song demonstrates that better than this one. This song also is filled with those classic keyboard and guitar fills you hear on many of the songs of that era like Sailing by Christopher Cross or Betty Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes or Maniac by Michael Sembello. The production also took on a replication of that other 80s monster producer in Peter Gabriel. He uses all kinds of sound effects to replace melodic instrumental parts and so in this song we hear a concrete power drill on the chorus. Very 80s and well done. The languorous repeating guitar line shimmering through a flange peddle. While there are some really great lyrics to this song also, the majority of the lyrics again vaporize into words that work but dont really mean much by themselves. Writing cryptic messages in your lyrics is a joni signiture but the lyrics here after multiple listens dont seem to be saying much to anyone. Artifice (pretense or deception) Brutality and Innocense. The three great stimulants. Motivators ? or opiates. Human nature's catalyst?? Possibly. The mystery of this began to distract me. How about The Exhausted Ones. What and who are they. People in other countries experiencing the wars referenced to, or us. Then I encountered the rosetta stone of the song in this verse.

I saw a little lawyer on the tube
He said "It's so easy now anyone can sue"
"Let me show you how your petty aggravations can profit you!"
Call for the three great stimulants
Of the exhausted ones
Artifice brutality and innocence
Artifice and innocence


Whats interesting to me is that this is not necessarily talking about just the 80s. This is deeper than corporate greed which everybody understands. This is a new kind of human greed. A lawyer advertising on night time cable is different than the hackneyed anti-corporate rant. Its also more focused on the root of the problem. People with such attitudes run corporations and the government as well as their lives.

Oh these times, these times
Oh these changing times
Change in the heart of all mankind
Oh these troubled times


Knowing what we now know from Jonis recent interviews in which she waxes positively Nostradamusesque about the coming apocalypse we can safely say that while when she wrote these songs she may have believed that the Corporations were to blame . She knows the right wing doesnt run the music or media industry and yet she sees that this was when all the trouble started and she knows where it started.

Last night I dreamed I saw the planet flicker
Great forests fell like buffalo
Everything got sicker
And to the bitter end
Big business bickered


Intentional or not I began to ponder the lyrics of the song and lo and behold while doing so I come across this excerpt in the Congressional Hearings Reporter website I haunt.

TIME WARNER chief executive Gerald Levin testified Thursday before a complete panel at the Federal Communications Commission. But candid comments made by Levin earlier this year during a media round table have some lawmakers in Congress concerned that something is foul with the latest greatest media marriage.

Levin recently warned in the post-Cold War era there is only "American cultural imperialism."

"There's no countervailing force, that's a significant problem," declared the man who will become the most powerful media executive in history if an AOL/TIME WARNER merger is approved by federal regulators. Levin sees a future where major media corporations take on responsibilities currently administered by governments.

"We're going to need to have these corporations redefined as instruments of public service because they have the resources, they have the reach, they have the skill base, and maybe there's a new generation coming up that wants to achieve meaning in that context and have an impact, and that may be a more efficient way to deal with society's problems than governments," predicted Levin.

[I collect great quotes and I remembered this one and it really hit me after reading this]

Abraham Lincoln's letter to William F. Elkins, November 21, 1864?

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country…corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow [[ my remark: Hello Department of Commerce "trade missions"] , and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

Joni's been warning us about the corporations for years. Little did she know it was TimeWarner -AOL who would become the threat. This stuff may be heavy for an album review but the womans work is so HEAVY it blows my mind. Little did I realize that DED was so psychic.

Got to give this one an 8 1/2

Tax Free
Well we copied the Pretenders and the Police now who else is really really big and popular that we need to emulate.....how about Cristopher Cross who is tied into all the other people involved with this album and whose album was a colossal smash about this time had sections in his songs very close to Jonis in this song particularly on the vocal phrasing. Another was the Motels. Joni must have been watching alot of MTV. This song also has another gimmic of the times which was the boyfriend imitating politician making speech voice over. People in the sixties mocked parents who didnt like their music their hair or their party materials. In the 80s it became cool to mock politicians and materialism (later to be abandoned in the 90s) because the entire industry hated Ronald Reagan and the economic expansion.

However Joni isnt writing about macho military invasions with most of the lyrics. Shes writing about coming home from party time, feeling like doggy doo, and onto the TV comes a televangelist. Most of the allusions are to hard right christian bible thumpers and how money sent to them is tax deductable, which she calls "tax free" (revealing her musician mentality). How the song segues into the "marines, manhood, and grenada"is, I think, another example I suspect of the decisions of others.

The voice at the end referring to the invasion of Grenada is a classic. Wonder where that guy has been through Bosnia, Khosovo,Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Bin Laden and about 40 other military escapades of the last eight years. [Hey man who cares, I got my portfolios and my 401-k cranking man]. Little did Joni suspect at the time that a future president would hold an entire invasion just to distract the public from the DNA tests on a blue dress like Clinton did but thats another story. Anyway what is interesting is that the entire song lyric isnt really about politics or politicians (which makes the political rant all the more interesting, unrelated, and weird) but about televangelists and their craving for money and the idea that money given to them is tax deductable.

The Cristopher Cross imitation stems from the vocals which are done very much in his style especially in the first verse. Detecting a pattern here? First the Police, The Pretenders, Peter Gabriel, Cristopher Cross all whose styles are suddenly the way for Joni to go. OK you might say thats way too harsh an indictment. Well I'll stand by that because these arent just style drifts they are absolute quasi sampling of those other artists art. When you are imitating Chrissy Hindes vocal annunciations you arent just dabbling you are copying. Joni must have felt suffocated under this pushing from all directions to immitate others. How can I say that ? Easy, Turbulent Indigo.

After she escaped Klein and the other LAMM her music reverted to what can easily see is her own art. Compare TI to DED and no greater evidence could ever be produced. It is stark. One is her, the other isnt. In Tax Free the idea Joni had about televangelists is suddenly co-opted into an anti-Reagan rant about the Grenada invasion. Talk about invasion of the body snatchers, the LAMM took a perfectly good general idea and foisted their own preferred political subject matter and in doing so mutated the song itself.

I love the synth tubular sound on this songs intro. Although the verse melody is pastel and undistinguishable I love the choruses melodic groove (with its guitar line) and i LOOOVe the short multi track interlude on the line "Oh come let us adore....me". I think the song would have been better without the ranting but hey that was the 80s. Only Joni can answer for sure but I would bet that this was again someone elses idea and she was tired of fighting all her "mentors".

It earns the big 6 for effort.

Smokin' (Empty, Try Another)
Years ago I noticed that when I went to the money machine when my card came back out after the transaction there was this little beep sound that was in perfect note and time with Greg Rollie's hammond B-3 intro to Santana's Oy E Como Va. Machine as music what a concept. Peter Gabriel in my humble opinion is one of the all time greatest acts to see live. No amps for any of his musicians on the stage. Everything is wireless. The sound is always the best as well as the lights. etc. But nothing has distinguished P-Gab from the rest of the pack anything like his in-studio use of sound effects in place of music instrumental tracks. His albums are filled with sounds rather than music. Even his drums sound like machines found in factories and subway trains. Ultimately this is a very well done song that pulls off this technique about as well as it can be done. I would have to assume (given my other assumptions) that cigarette smoking was becoming an issue big time in the Klein-Mitchell abode. She refers to it in the song Borderline later on ("...blame it on the smoke"). Maybe she was feeling enslaved by the habit. In any event she makes unique use of the sound of the cigarette machine and that one "instrument" ,except for Larry Kleins bass, is it, as far as instruments go. She throws in a hacking cough at the end part of the song as sort of her "solo". Her vocals as usual are fabulous although basically doing the same line repeatedly.

Ill give it a 6 for the beat of the cigarette machine.

Dog Eat Dog
As a hard core folk music fan I long ago got used to the political statement put to music. While Joni certainly does that in this song I sensed a much deeper thing going on. I say this because Joni came of age both personally and professionally during one of the most dynamic and horrifying (Cold War nuclear threat-Viet Nam-Kent State-Kennedy/King) eras in history. So it is suprising that the woman who didnt write a song about some things of great historic importance suddenly writes a song about 80s materialism meeting religion and sees a deep connection to survival of the human race within it. She is clearly all over the televangelists case -again- (perhaps rightly so) but somehow missed the political/religion pimps in the process. She sees materialism and greed for money in the corporate world and the religion business but misses entirely those who lie cheat and enslave people for political power as opposed to money. Personally I think this is the achilles heel of the boomer generation but I digress. In the title track nothing states her case better than the third verse.

Land of snap decisions
Land of short attention spans
Nothing is savored
Long enough to really understand
In every culture in decline
The watchful ones among the slaves
Know all that is genuine will be
Scorned and conned and cast away


Perhaps she is revealing who the slaves were in her song Passion Play. Joni here clearly has on her blue malaise tinted shades. Her assessment is depressing and morose. On the other hand the music itself is that of Southern California. Bright, cheery, tonaly uplifting only a hint of a minor chord. Kind of like LA itself wherein everyone goes to see their therapist on bright sunny wonderful days. Another interesting thing to me was the slightest hint of Cindy Lauper's Time after Time in the musical tracks. Almost as if the producer realized that he had to include that to insure playability on the radio.

A 6 is about where this comes in.

Shiny Toys
Easily my favorite song on the album and in my humble opinion actually Jonis best "hit". The song's verse is an out and out synopsis of the 80s with just a hint of the Police guitar signiture in the intro. When people magazine was the most read in America and Female bands were taking off with the Bangles Cindy Lauper, the Pretenders (sorry but it was Chrisseys band) and the GoGos. Life must have been good good good in LA about these times. Joni sings about the exciting trips out to party land. The intro is brilliant with the melody of the words a sort of counter melody to the note line. The production is fabulous with the synth pads and the effects darting in and out of your consciousness. I have listened to this song now maybe 50 or 60 times and there is no sign of getting tired of it. Pure fun. Of course the attention span of the producer was so wigged out that when he had the obligatory boyfriend blurt out "I love my porsche" (twice yet) to you know sort of like wow man lets hammer home the materialism theme lest someone not get it. In spite of that this is the purest hit material on the album.

No problem giving this one a 9.

Ethiopia
Who can forget the images night after night on TV of the orphaned black child with the malnoureshed stomach and the flies crawling on the face. On and on and on. Who can forget that immense effort to raise consciousness about the massive starvation in Ethiopia led by those staunch careing and concerned rockers and all the Hollywood stars who did Live Aid. Ever wonder what happened to that person and those people? This song was Jonis contribution to that era. Of course the fact that since this song was sung there have been probably six or seven similar regional disasters and a new one (AIDS) that threatens to wipe out two entire generations on the entire continent and about 80 million to 200 million people in Africa has gone totally without follow up of any kind from the "caring" rock community. This is why I have a hard time buying the "sincerity" behind songs like this. If it was enough of an issue to get this worked up over then why have all the others gone largely ignored by the very same community. Could it be that the problem was too immense and beyond any solution to begin with making all the sturm and drang over this singular crisis an exercise in hubris. Oh come let us adore ME. The same generation that was dumb enough to think that Woodstock was a potential model for a real society (it was actually a model of Cuba) was suddenly under the impression that all it had to do was sing a song and a great famine would be "cured". ? The "oops" has yet to be verbalized by those New World Order fans. All the more reason to demand that the UN do something. How about a song about the UN ignoring the issue Joni.

The point Im making is that the mid 80s was the beginning of the abandonment of its ideals by the left in America. Or that to maintain its stated values was going to imply far more heavy lifting than merely singing about it and expecting someone else to clean up the mess while we go on to the next crusade. Since then it has congratulated itself on its "feelings" villified others for not "caring" and then gone home to party, smug in its arrogance that it is enough just to speak up. But like the old photos of the horrible "hip" outfits people see in old photographs that they used to wear in the 60s and 70s (that they now laugh at), issues like Biafra (60s) and Ethiopia are fawned over as if that was all that needed to be done to qualify for sainthood.

While Bill Gates the evil capitalist devil who manages to run 10 feet in front of the Janet Reno steamroller gives 45 million dollars to innoculate African Children today Barbara Streisand gives her money to elect Al Gore. AND Mr. Gates doesnt hold a two continent rock show to announce it. So this song to me is like the picture of Jane Fonda sitting on the anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi. Seemed like the political thing to do at the time but a hollow symbolic gesture in retrospect. Joni of course can always do a new song entitled Sierra Leone Makes Me Cry Today.

The music is interesting but was overwhelmed in my mind by the issue and the political historical gravity. In other words it doesnt matter if theres a great sound system in the green room next to the electric chair.

The studio sampling and production raises this song to a 5.

Impossible Dreamer
Lush production. I suppose when you get to the end of producing an album like this you are looking for something different. Of course we can never know when this song was written or produced in terms of the album project itself because the choice of the order of the songs appearance is usually made after all are finished. However the words are uplifting to some extent and the production is wonderful. The words have been spoken to here on the list and its basically broken down to a question of whether the person Joni is singing of is Lennon or King. Joni I believe says its King but the lyrics make several mentions about John lennon type references.

I thought of you
Dreamer
Give peace a chance
Don't think just dance
Impossible
Impossible dreamer


Well one could say Lennon wrote Give Peace a Chance but he did it at the time the King speeches were being delivered by him so who knows. Anyway my ultimate impression about this song was how low key it was. How soft and dreamy and sensetive. It sounds to me that Joni made the decisions on this one. Was this one done first, before the others. After hearing this song did the LAMM decide they had to squeeze a hit out of the rest of the potential material she had assembled for this product. Accuse me of speculating off the wall if you will but thats the impression I got listening to this album over and over. This song stands out like a sore thumb. Theres no "hit " component. No hook, no attempt to copy someone else, no Michael Macdonald doing a sit in, nothing. Its LA production for sure but the other stuff is missing.

Ill give this one a 6.

Lucky Girl
I never loved a man I trusted
As far as I could throw my shoe
'til I loved you.
{ Awwwwww)

Is she talking about Klein? I don't know but I had to rank this song as too pastel so as to be borderline boring. There is no compelling melody, no deep groove of feeling, and its a wash as far as saying something interesting. I know a Jonifan out there will take great umbrage and make a voodoo doll of ol Marcel BUT hey that will give them something to do while they listen to their Yoko Onos Greatest Hits CD.

Ill have to be generous and give this song a 4.

Well thats it. Lots of fun. I always have fun doing album reviews because you really have to consider the songs from many angles. So many times we just listen and thats good but its also fun to really consider all the details.

Ultimately this album was alot better than I was led to believe. In spite of the lyrics not being up to Joni's usual ethereal level the production was among her (or Kleins) best. I strongly stand by my ESP that Joni was being led by the hand by others on the production side. Having said that however if Im not mistaken it was after this album that her flirtation with the VG-8 turned into a steady date. So the effect of that incredible LA sound certainly lodged in the right side of her brain. After this album it was good-bye, not just pork pie hat but, acoustic instruments. The only BIG 80s bands not knocked off on this album are Huey lewis and Greg Kihn and thats OK because the less imitation the better as far as Im concerned.

All in all I'm really glad I did this. Its been time consuming writing one song review a day and then editing, and I hope I dont bust someones cookies entirely. After all we are all entitled to our opinions. If you havent listened to this album ever or havent in a long time then head out to the nearest highway get the car up to about 85 with the windows down and then put on "Good Friends". Just ignore the lyrics that dont really mean anything.

 

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