Band Jury: Madeline Kenney Defends Joni Mitchell’s Dog Eat Dog

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Welcome to Band Jury, a SPIN collection by which artists defend black sheep albums they really feel deserve one other hear. These are tasks that, for no matter motive (middling gross sales, unfavorable critiques, a misunderstood stylistic shift) have fallen barely out of trend — or maybe by no means reached it to start with.

The Defender: Madeline Kenney

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{Qualifications}: Indie-rock singer-songwriter with 4 albums of clever, experimental songs, together with her newest, July’s A New Actuality Thoughts; human who enjoys music

Madeline Kenney performs on the 2021 Exterior Lands Music and Arts Competition (Picture by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for Exterior Lands, through Getty Photographs)

The Defended: Joni Mitchell’s 1985 LP, Dog Eat Dog

Overview: Blended-to-negative crucial reception; peaked at No. 68 on the Billboard 200, her lowest rating in 17 years; spawned two singles, “Good Associates” (No. 85 on the Sizzling 100, No. 28 on the Mainstream Rock chart) and “Shiny Toys”; career-worst rating (2.71/5.0) on fan-review web site RateYourMusic

Geffen Information

Like many different self-described “Joni-heads,” Madeline Kenney’s journey into Joni Mitchell didn’t start with Dog Eat Dog, essentially the most divisive album within the songwriter’s huge catalog. 

“I bought tremendous into [1974’s] Court docket and Spark and knew each phrase and chord change,” she says. “My mother was so glad once I was stepping into it. She was like [does an impression in a dramatic, almost Victorian accent], ‘Oh, my god. I had that album when it got here out, and I listened to it a lot that the needle wore by way of.’ It was a cute bonding second.”

Cute—and likewise logical: Court docket and Spark is the form of canonical document you may discover on a “best-of” record, embodying Mitchell’s sonic hallmarks (the people, the jazz, the soft-rock) from her most universally acclaimed period, the early ’70s. However that beloved challenge didn’t outline her full artistic arc: Mitchell continued to shape-shift through the years, morphing into jazz-fusion, mainstream pop-rock, and the experimental, difficult-to-define synth-pop of Dog Eat Dog. That LP, infamously co-produced by Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me With Science”), was a relative flop in each sense: solely reaching No. 68 on the Billboard 200, incomes some harsh critiques (Rolling Stone known as it an “disagreeable hear,” and in a 2020 rating of her LPs, Paste positioned it useless final, arguing that it “didn’t age nicely.”)

However maybe the album’s aesthetics—the utilization of synths and samples, the ’80s drum sounds, the (relative) lack of signature guitar taking part in—are what drove so many individuals away. Possibly the dismissal of Dog Eat Dog is extra about what followers anticipated from a revered artist, reasonably than a perceived inventive failing. 

“I believe if this document was made by one other artist who was extra recognized for these angular soundscapes, individuals could be like, ‘Oh, what an excellent document!’” Kenney argues. “However as a result of it’s coming from somebody who individuals have such outlined expectations from, they’re like, ‘Ew.’ Laurie Anderson may have made that document, and other people would have been like, ‘Sure, that is sensible!’”

Do you bear in mind once you first heard Dog Eat Dog

I bear in mind stepping into this document as a result of I used to be on tour. I used to be taking part in in my buddy’s band, and the drummer, Paul, set the track “Dog Eat Dog” as his alarm. It’s actually humorous as a result of that track begins off with no instrumental — it simply goes straight into [sings] “Dog eat canine!” Waking as much as that each morning on tour was very humorous to me. It was additionally humorous if I bought up earlier than them and watched it go off. 

I simply really feel like this document has all the things you’re used to loving about Joni: fascinating chords, cool phrasing, her phonetics—like consonants. It’s very satisfying—there are numerous onerous “r” and “ok” sounds. It makes the lyricism much more compelling, and I clearly assume [the lyrics are] enthralling too. 

So why do you assume so many individuals hate it? 

The hatred of it’s so bizarre to me. I’ve so many emotions about this. It reveals how close-minded some persons are. [It comes back to] one thing I’ve all the time mentioned about artists making an attempt to [evolve] and their followers being like, “I hate this”: [sarcastically] You realize once you grow to be pals with someone and keep pals with them, after which 10 years after you’ve been pals, you go, “Truly, 5 years in the past was my favourite time of you—are you able to simply return to that?” It’s such a ridiculous factor. All people’s entitled to an opinion, however anticipating an artist to not develop and alter and be eager about different issues is tremendous naive and unfair to them as an individual. 

I actually love that document. She goes again to doing guitar-based stuff [later in her career], however she doesn’t play guitar on [Dog Eat Dog]. She simply performs synths, and he or she was being tremendous experimental together with her personal use of samples. It was a model new device for her. After all it’s completely different from her different work. But it surely’s cool to listen to someone who already has unimaginable songwriting and storytelling functionality use a unique device.

A number of artists have these huge breakout albums that followers can rally round. However Joni Mitchell was all the time fairly unorthodox with, such as you mentioned, alternate guitar tunings and weird phrasings. And he or she twisted and turned stylistically all through her profession. Possibly followers had been turned off by the slicker, ’80s-sounding manufacturing. Do you might have a concept? 

There are components of it which might be abrasive, I’d say, in comparison with her different work. I really like reverb-y, boomy, ’80s drums. I really like that shit. I believe it’s so satisfying. There’s numerous Thomas Dolby doing issues within the background, so possibly persons are… I don’t know. It’s a bit extra daring. I don’t assume it’s extra genius than her different data, however the soundscape is extra angular. This document has numerous tones that remind me of the Pretenders or Tune-Yards or one thing. [Laughs.] Individuals are like, “Oh, I need her to croon and sing these actually excessive butterfly notes.”


Joni Mitchell has mentioned earlier than that she considers herself a painter first and a songwriter second, which is de facto fascinating as a result of all people’s determined what she is to music. However in case you [consider] her personal mindset, that is simply one other medium that she’s making an attempt on for dimension. Working with these synthesizers was simply one other method for her to precise her humanity. She was such an enormous a part of that late ’60s/early ’70s motion in music: being political or no matter. Folks simply actually ascribe a sure “siren of the hippies” position to her, whereas this album seems like a tragic, middle-aged girl in a enterprise go well with. She will include multitudes—that’s a factor. 

This album got here out one month after Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. There are numerous sonic similarities, together with using the Fairlight synthesizer. I really feel like they’re sister albums.  

Wow, that’s wild! To not scale back all of it to feminism, however I believe it’s simply fucking cool that they had been getting within the studio with all these bros and being like, “I simply need to do that.” I assume it was form of contentious between Joni and Thomas Dolby, who then later was like, “Ooh, I believe I used to be being form of a dick.” Any motion a girl makes outdoors of her assigned position can annoy individuals, can ruffle feathers. 

It looks as if there’s numerous weight positioned on artists who come out of the gate so sturdy and have this very explicit vibe that individuals resonate with. It’s onerous for individuals to detach themselves from that and allow them to do their factor. 

It will be additionally naive to anticipate that each album of hers could be like that. I don’t assume that is her finest album, however I believe it’s essential for artists to experiment and develop—and have rising pains. You’re gonna hear their development by way of their catalog. That’s simply their nature. We nonetheless body Rembrandt’s sketches. 

I do know that Dog Eat Dog particularly influenced your new album. How so? 

These echo-y, moist drum sounds—and simply being actually synth-based too. It wasn’t on function. It wasn’t like, “I’m gonna do that too!” However she didn’t play guitar on the album, and I solely play guitar on one track on this album. I sometimes play guitar on each track, however I kind of wished to flee that and simply do piano and synth. There’s been numerous returning to Joni Mitchell surrounding this album. I completed the album and despatched it to my shut buddy Jenn Wasner [Wye Oak, Bon Iver]—we used to dwell collectively. A day later, she’s like, “Dude, that is completely your Dog Eat Dog second.” Possibly these individuals who wrote these unhealthy critiques would take that as an insult, however I used to be like, “Oh, my god. Thanks!”

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