Thursday, January 28, 2021

The most underrated album of the 80s

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell is one of the all time greats.  Her classic songs include "Help Me," "Big Yellow Taxi," "River," "Both Sides Now," "Hejira," "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio," "Raised On Robbery," "A Case of You" and many more.  Her classic albums -- recognized classics -- include LADIES OF THE CANYON, BLUE, FOR THE ROSES, COURT & SPARK, THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, HEJIRA and TURBULENT INDIGO.  For years, we've argued repeatedly that her 1985 album DOG EAT DOG belongs on that list.

In the US, DOG EAT DOG only made it to 63 on BILLBOARD's TOP 200 albums list.  And the critical reaction was intensely against the album.  Joni has often spoken of how THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS was her child that got beat up in the playground.  Prior to 1985, that was true.  However, once October of that year rolled around and DOG EAT DOG was released, it became the most beat up of her children.  

ROLLING STONE"s Rob Tannenbaum, in a typical review, used a lot of words to convey the simple take that DOG EAT DOG was "an unpleasant listen" while Liam Lacey (TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL) whined that "nothing really works very well."  While many slammed the lyrics on the album as "pedestrian," David Hugh Smith (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) felt, "The lyrics mitigate the banality of the music."


The lyrics aren't pedestrian, the music isn't banal.  Joni was experimenting.  Thomas Dolby basically provided click tracks -- though he wanted to do so much more and seemed to think it was going to be a Joni Mitchell and Thomas Dolby album.  No, it's a Joni album and, as always, it's an album about what's on her mind, what's in her heart.


Surveying the landscape in 1985, she found much to be appalled by and concerned over and compared herself, while promoting the album, to Paul Revere in a a land of ostriches.  


In the title track, she notes:


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


It was true then, it's sadly still true today.  The empire is in decline, the Congress is out of touch and We The People suffer.  It's a time where Glenn Greenwald writes:


The last two weeks have ushered in a wave of new domestic police powers and rhetoric in the name of fighting “terrorism” that are carbon copies of many of the worst excesses of the first War on Terror that began nearly twenty years ago. This trend shows no sign of receding as we move farther from the January 6 Capitol riot. The opposite is true: it is intensifying.

We have witnessed an orgy of censorship from Silicon Valley monopolies with calls for far more aggressive speech policing, a visibly militarized Washington, D.C. featuring a non-ironically named “Green Zone,” vows from the incoming president and his key allies for a new anti-domestic terrorism bill, and frequent accusations of “sedition,” “treason,” and “terrorism” against members of Congress and citizens. This is all driven by a radical expansion of the meaning of “incitement to violence.” It is accompanied by viral-on-social-media pleas that one work with the FBI to turn in one’s fellow citizens (See Something, Say Something!) and demands for a new system of domestic surveillance.

Underlying all of this are immediate insinuations that anyone questioning any of this must, by virtue of these doubts, harbor sympathy for the Terrorists and their neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideology. Liberals have spent so many years now in a tight alliance with neocons and the CIA that they are making the 2002 version of John Ashcroft look like the President of the (old-school) ACLU.


 And Jonathan Turley observes:

I am an unabashed Internet originalist. I have long opposed the calls for censorship under the pretense of creating “an honest Internet.”  We have have been discussing how writerseditorscommentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and his key advisers. The erosion of free speech has been radically accelerated by the Big Tech and social media companies. The level of censorship and viewpoint regulation has raised questions of a new type of state media where companies advance an ideological agenda with political allies.

As I have previously written, we are witnessing the death of free speech on the Internet.  What is particularly concerning is the common evasion used by academics and reporters that this is not really a free speech issue because these are private companies. The First Amendment is designed to address government restrictions on free speech. As a private entity, Twitter is not the subject of that amendment. However, private companies can still destroy free speech through private censorship. I have previously discussed this aspect of speech controls as the “Little Brother problem.” President Trump can be chastised for converting a “Little Brother” into a “Big Brother” problem. However, that does alter the fundamental threat to free speech.  This is the denial of free speech, a principle that goes beyond the First Amendment. Indeed, some of us view free speech as a human right.

Consider racial or gender discrimination. It would be wrong regardless if federal law only banned such discrimination by the government. The same is true for free speech. The First Amendment is limited to government censorship, but free speech is not limited in the same way. Those of us who believe in free speech as a human right believe that it is morally wrong to deny it as either a private or governmental entity.  That does not mean that there are not differences between governmental and private actions. For example, companies may control free speech in the workplaces. They have a recognized right of free speech. However, the social media companies were created as forums for speech.  Indeed, they sought immunity on the false claim that they were not making editorial decisions or engaging viewpoint regulation.  No one is saying that these companies are breaking the law in denying free speech. We are saying that they are denying free speech as companies offering speech platforms.

That is why these seemingly harmless Birdwatchers are a concern for some of us. They are being added as a community component to an expanding system of Internet censorship. As they watch their neighbors and Twitter watches them, free speech will further decline on the Internet.


What does Joni sing in "The Three Great Stimulants?"  She sings:

While madmen sit up building bombs
And making laws and bars
They're gonna slam free choice behind us

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
And they call for the three great stimulants
Of the exhausted ones
Artifice brutality and innocence
Artifice and innocence


It's a sad song, a beautiful song and a song that's still true today.




Nine solid songs -- yes, even "Smoking (Empty Try Another)" which is built around the sounds from a cigarette machine -- with Joni singing in fine voice and exploring the state and the heart of the country.

Her vocals are inventive ("Shiny Toys") and her use of plosives throughout the album is spot on and adds to the layers and meanings.  As a snapshot of 1985, the album worked.  Sadly, things have only gotten worse and the album still works.

Joni told Iain Blair (LOS ANGELES HERALD), 'It's definitely different from anything I've ever done before.  It was also the hardest record I've ever made for a number of reasons.  There's a lot of blood on those tracks.  These are dangerous times, and I suddenly felt a sense of responsibility to speak up now or forever hold my peace."  We're glad she didn't hold her tongue.  DOG EAT DOG is a classic.



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