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.
Originally published in Maclean's magazine 18 November 1985