Joni Mitchell’s last album, Wild Things Run Fast, reflected the maturity of a woman who had chased away her romantic demons. Now, Dog Eat Dog, her first release in three years, reveals that the 42-year-old musician has experienced a political awakening. The 10 new songs, which tackle such subjects as corporate greed, African famine and right-wing evangelism, may alienate her loyal listeners. But with its clever pop arrangements and engaging vocals, the album includes some of Mitchell’s most exuberant work in years. On the playfully syncopated title track she decries the “prime-time crime” of “bigwig financiers,” while in Tax Free actor Rod Steiger impersonates a raving evangelist who warns of creeping communism. Still, Mitchell’s own sermonizing occasionally defeats her artistry. Ethiopia suffers from overkill with such exaggerated images as “famine phantoms at the garden gate.” Despite those excesses, Dog Eat Dog is a thoughtful and provocative collection. It proves that Mitchell is a compelling artist even when she shifts her focus to foreign from romantic affairs.
RAINDOGS Tom Waits (Island/MC A)
Los Angeles singer Tom Waits has always viewed his favorite denizens of the night with a charming romanticism. But with Raindogs Waits’s derelict characters have taken on gritty, three-dimensional life. On Cemetery Polka a sad accordion and rude trombone flesh out his vivid portrait of a wildly eccentric family. And the tinkling, aimless piano in Tango Till They’re Sore is well suited to the rambling imagination of the song’s narrator. But Waits is most coherent when he sticks to shattered dreams and tin-can sounds of alleyways. On several songs he uses makeshift percussion instruments to create a kind of hobo’s orchestra. His gift for idioms has always been impressive, but now, with a more humane and imaginative touch, Waits has found the soul of his downtrodden heroes.
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