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Joni Mitchell: Dog Eat Dog Print-ready version

by Tom Moon
Digital Audio and CD Review
May 1986
Original article: PDF

Joni Mitchell: Dog Eat Dog
Producers: Joni Mitchell, Larry Klein, Mike Shipley, Thomas Dolby
Engineer: Mike Shipley
Geffen 24074-2 (ADD)
Total disc time: 42:05

Is anybody really listening?

It should be no surprise that quick-draw critics from Rolling Stone and Newsweek (among others) loudly panned Joni Mitchell's Dog Eat Dog. Apart from its obvious political bent, the work blatantly defies the easy listen and the quick summation. In Mitchell's own words, it's not music for the "land of snap decisions, land of short attention spans."

But it is surprising that no one has come out and acknowledged Dog for what it is: a powerfully evocative crowning achievement for one of pop music's most vital poet/songwriters.

Dog Eat Dog was one of the unheralded triumphs of 1985. A possible explanation for its widespread misunderstanding might be its density - on vinyl, Dog Eat Dog sounds cluttered and closed in. The CD's extended dynamic range allows more accurate reproduction of the multi-level spatial concept Mitchell was working toward.

The production on Dog Eat Dog always matches the intensity of the message. Mitchell set out to work in the synthesized medium with full understanding of its limitations and inherent drawbacks. Not only have Mitchell and co-producers Larry Klein, Mike Shipley, and Thomas Dolby humanized the idiom, they've also expanded it.

Placement across the sound spectrum, especially on the theatrical works like "Tax Free," reaches an almost three-dimensional level. The voices come from all directions, and each one rings distinct and jarring. Mitchell's array of chirping and braying vocal personalities gets resourceful, surround-sound treatment.

More significantly, there's none of the tell-tale direct-box closeness that plagues many synth-heavy analog-to-disc transfers. Dog Eat Dog breathes, it has depth, and it actually sounds live. While credit for this belongs to the production team, it also goes to Mitchell's clever, economy-minded arrangements: She has immersed herself in the synthesized medium and understands how to make sweeping dynamic changes, how to isolate instruments and maintain intensity, how to use nonmusical sounds to reinforce the musical whole.

If, hearing the LP, you had doubts about Mitchell's grasp of this field, give the CD a spin. It's a shining testament to the musical wonders of the studio that capture Mitchell's pointed vision at its best.

Performance: 10
Sound Quality: 9

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Though Joni implies that her new album is not for the uncerebral, I still say the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

Eldred James
Elkins, NY

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