Bob Dylan

Wrote propaganda songs

What grates about Dylan isn't his voice - you get used to it after a while - but his attitude towards humanity. He epitomizes the self-righteous prig, the windbag who rails against all the vices and hypocrisies of those around him, without once employing the same holier-than-thou standard to himself. He can't see the beam in his own eye while he's scorning the motes in the bourgeios'. He's got too much Old Testament in him to ever make a convincing Christian (as Mark Twain said, the Old Testament was God before he got religion), and his biggest literary influences are probably closer to Job and Jonathan Edwards than Rimbaud or Whitman. Even John Lennon displayed humility and human vulnerability every now and then; Dylan has never once seemed to question or doubt himself, has never turned his venom inward towards his own foibles - which ultimately makes him less convincing when he's railing against Mr. Jones, his ex-wife, or anyone else.

I'm assuming you already know this guy, but in case you're from some isolated African country that's too poor to afford radios, Bob Dylan is one of the most important figures in 20th century music. If you can't appreciate at least some of his work, then there's only one thing to do: keep listening until you do, and if you still don't like at least some Dylan, then you're tone deaf. I hate to make judgemental statements about an art so opinionated as music, but in this case I will. Some might argue that he's even more important than the Beatles in terms of influence: he opened up the subject matter of popular song to encompass poetry, stream-of-consciousness, the banal diary jottings of the average day, and just about any other concievable subject available. Before Dylan, popular songs were quite limited in what they could say (of which the protest song is just another limited genre, in its own way); after Dylan, songs became vehicles for personal expression as novels and poems had in the past - but poems with immediacy and a beat. Dylan's impact on the lyrical direction of popular music cannot be overstated; it's like questioning the impact Shakespeare had on the English language.

The comparison to Shakespeare is hyperbole, by the way, but you'd never guess that from the way a lot of fans and critics fawn over the man. Everyone worships the man to a loony degree, so I decided in my first paragraph to take an approach other critics don't: taking him down a peg. Not everything he did in the '60s was perfect, or even good, and after that epochal decade he's done much to damage his reputation by releasing bad album after bad album by rote. He perked up a bit in the mid-'70s, but the Dylan of the past quarter century isn't the Dylan of the '60s by a long shot - the old man (and Dylan has always been a cranky old geezer yelling at kids on his lawn, even when he was a kid himself) lost his touch for writing songs a long time ago. Maybe all those drugs fried his brain - how else would you explain those awful Christian albums? Saved might actually turn a die-hard fundamentalist into an atheist.

My reviews of Dylan's ouvre is far from complete, but rest assured, I'll get around to everything eventually. I've run with a crowd that venerates Dylan as a secular saint, and have pretty much heard everything he's released, even the unbearable '80s material. In fact at one point I heard my friends play him so much I had to take a vacation from Dylan and keep his music very far away from my ears - I'm over that now. I'm reviewing the albums I'm the most familiar with (i.e. the ones I myself own), but let me warn you: don't get anything after Desire except for Time Out of Mind. I once had a roommate who was a Dylan novice. He had Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, so he went out and bought Vol. III - the volume that covers his '70s and '80s crap. When he brought the tape home, before he even put it on I told him, "You should have come to me for advice first and gotten Vol. II." He proceeded to put the cassette in and we sat there listening until halfway through we grew naseous - my lord, do lyrics get any dumber than "Gotta Serve Somebody"? I could have warned him beforehand. Don't let it happen to you - check this page first.

P.S. That tagline at the top is a quote from the Minutemen, who wrote a few propaganda songs themselves.

Reader Comments

Justyn Dillingham,

Good reviews, but you do know Dylan eventually gave up his born-again Christianity? That's why Time Out Of Mind isn't clogged up with all that pious crap. I understand he doesn't follow any organized religion these days.

Bob Dylan (1962) ***

Most of the web reviewers I've read damn with this with faint praise by calling it "surprisingly listenable," and yes, I will damn it with that very same faint praise. Seeing as there are only two Dylan originals, this is hardly essential to anyone except for fanatics or folk archeologists. However, if you are interested in Zimmerman's roots, this offers a compelling sampler of American folksong: most of the tunes the Bobster covers are overlooked classics (at least in 1962) and are well worth your aquaintance. Dylan hasn't found his voice yet - no, I don't mean that figuratively (though I mean that, too) I mean literally: his vocals grate even worse than on his later albums, and on "Freight Train Blues," he whines an amusing, nails-on-chalkboard version of hoarse vocal feedback. Of the two originals, "Talkin' New York" is kind of funny but kind of whiny, and "Song To Woody," is a nice gesture but little more. Of the covers, "Highway 51" (guess where that road took him) and "House of the Rising Sun," are the most revelatory. I prefer the Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun," but Dylan's isn't bad (and if he hadn't had recorded it, then the Animals would never have even heard the tune), and he doesn't change the original lyrics that make it obvious the "House" referred to is a cathouse. Though he already had plenty of original material at the time, true to his folk roots Dylan felt obliged to record an album of others' songs to prove his authenticity. O'course folkies are (were) obsessed with "authenticity" precisely because most folkies have none: callow middle class kids pretending to hoboes, including a nice middle class Jewish kid from the not exactly mean dirt roads of Hibbing, MN. He changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan, but hey baby, that's showbiz.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) ****

Bob Dylan as we know him arrives. The record's composed entirely of originals, with two exceptions, both fine: "Corrina, Corrina," which boasts the most fleshed-out arrangement on the album (the rest consists of simply boy and harmonica - which he more than gets by with, but I do warn: the gruff, unadorned style takes some getting used to), and the traditional "Girl From The North Country," a breathtakingly lovely melody with ancient origins in the north country of olde England. And now that he's flexing out his talent for writing original songs, he comes up with several instantaneous classics that I can merely list and you'll slap yourself upside the head and ask, "How could this callow 22-year old tap into material this powerful?": "Blowin' In The Wind," an anthem that already goes farther into populist timelessness than nearly anything his idol Guthrie ever wrote; "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," the first of many masterful obscurist hallucinatory epics; "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," a song so brutally honest it verges on slight misogyny, and instigated the entire tradition of heart-on-your-sleeve, self-consciously "modern romance", introspective singer-songwriters - yep, you can point to that particular song and trace back James Taylor's origins (as well many more talented folks - Paul Simon, do ya hear me?) Despite all that heaviness, though, mostly Bob sounds like a goofy kid kicking up a storm of silliness -- with a title like "I Shall Be Free," you'd expect some sort of Civil Rights anthem, but NO, this one's a crazy little lust fantasy in which Bob proposes to help the country by importing such important foriegn delegates Anita Ekberg and Brigitte Bardot. He also paraphrases Abraham Lincoln and explains why he's drunk all the time - yee-haw! Likewise, "Talking World War III Blues," is much more of a hootenanny than any song with that title has a right to be. At this date the dirgey protest number, "Masters of War," sounds dated and overblown and rather dull, but should be of note because it's the nastiest song in Dylan's reportoire -- which is saying a lot: he put down other people all the time, but this is the only song in which he's ever explicitly wished for someone else's death - he promises to stand by those warmonger's graves and watch as they're buried six feet under until he's absolutely sure they're dead. Unfortunately, the next album would consist entirely of "Masters of War, style protest dirges, though none on The Times Are A'Changin' are as coldy spiteful. Problems? Well, there are a few - not every song is a perfect gem, though they're all good ("Oxford Town," another protest number, also dates itself; "Down the Highway," is a throwaway) but the primary obstacle is, as I said earlier, the unadorned, raw style -- sitting through an entire album of unaccompanied acoustic Dylan can be rough for new initiates. But if you're a convert (and you should be!) this is his first true classic -- and it's only his second time at bat.

The Times They Are A'Changin' (1964) ***

From what I remember from the handful of times I've heard the previous album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, about half of these melodies are rewrites. This is Dylan's one and only straight protest album: nothing but dirgey, angry folk tunes pointing their finger at society's ills all the way through. Taken as individual pieces, most of these songs are bearable, and a few are classics; over the course of an entire album, it's wearying, because all the songs are in the same tempo and most are in the same key and melody, also. As with most political journalism, most of these reports from the front are now fishwrap, particularly the infuriatingly vague title track - it's a nice slogan, but I defy you to find out what it says beyond the fact that the times are, indeed, changing - well, aren't the times always? Has time ever not changed? "Pawns in the Game," "God On Our Side," and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," are the most renowned songs from this album, and they work, but all are extremely heavyhanded (if generally right-minded). This typifies Dylan as a commie-symp rabble-rouser (too bad about that lyric sneering at anti-Communists...the Left in the U.S. at the time didn't realize that we were at war with a tyrannical empire, an equivocation the Left nowadays tries to pretend never existed. Remember the flip-flop in '41 on the Left when Hitler backstabbed Stalin?). However, that's not Dylan's most attractive pose, and like the issues I dealt with in the parantheses preceding, the politics haven't dated well.

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) ***1/2

A big improvement over The Times Are A'Borin', it's basically a continuation of the Freewheelin' sound and attitude - basic acoustic folk-blues with tentative flourishes of extra instrumentation (a bit of honky-tonk piano here and there), comedy numbers interspersed between hazy love songs and hazier visionary "political" numbers (not that having to surround it with quotes is necessarily bad; the vaguer and more ambiguous stream of "Chimes of Freedom" I'll take over anything from the previous album of blunt broadsides). Actually, "Chimes," is really the only directly political number; as the title states, Dylan explores the other sides of his complex personality, setting loose his most affecting personal love songs (up to that point - it's no Blood On the Tracks, but a measurable step forward). Yeah, "All I Really Want To Do," (with an amusingly ugly train-whistle Dylan whine as he strains to hit the high note of the chorus) and "My Back Pages" were done a zillion times better by the Byrds, but "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "Chimes of Freedom" weren't, and anyone who prefers the Turtles' fluffy "It Ain't Me Babe," to Dylan's much more cutting original probably prefers french fries to baked potatoes, so fuck'em. Have I ever mentioned that I've always hated french fries? I wish they would give customers some other side choice on those supersize know, like fried dofu soaked in meat juice. They make it taste just like meat, but it's not really meat. When I get back to America, I'm going to open up a chain of fried dofu Buddhist vegetarian restuarants - of course I may have to change the traditional Buddhist vegetarian insignia so people won't mistake it for the local National Socialist White Power headquarters.

Oh, just look it up, you product of the substandard American educational system, then you'll understand my cutting rapist wit.

Yeah, that was a Dumb and Dumber reference. Got a problem with that?

Bringing It All Back Home (1965) ****1/2

Now here's where Dylan as the surrealistic hippie hurtling beatnik poetry against the bourgeious makes his appearance, and Dylan the rocker steps out for the first time. It's a tentative step, to be sure: only the first side contains electric rock performances, and unfortunately the nondescript band Dylan corralled deliver the definition of sloppy, generic bar-blues rock. In a word, boring. However, despite the shoddy performances, the songs Dylan wrote on the first side are, in a word, genius. Four of these are classic in every sense of the word. "Subterranean Homesick Blues," is the second rap song - the first was the song Dylan got the inspiration from, Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business." Depends on my mood which song I prefer. "She Belongs To Me," and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," are protest songs of a sort, against his detiorating relationship with Joan Baez, though cleverly disguised as love songs. "Maggie's Farm," really is protest rock, though Dylan universalizes the setting and is symbolically non-specific enough to make this song not the least bit dated. The flip side is all acoustic, and while two of these songs are dull groaners - the original "Mr. Tambourine Man," that possesses not an ounce of energy and only a vague trace of melody (and no hooks whatsoever - those flew in with the Byrds. Look, Dylan chauvinists, not every performance the man delivered was flawless. Sometimes other performers actually did his songs better than he did), and "Gates of Eden," which is as entertaining as listening to a Bible thumper telling you that you're going to hell (I'm from the Bible Belt, so I know of what I speak too well) - the other two are quite the classics. "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" pokes fun at blue-veined Victorian ladies and contains one of my favorite Dylan lines, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," is more than likely about Baez again, and was done definitively by Van Morrison (I don't think even Dylan purists are going to argue that one), but it's nice to hear the original, after all. I mean, I'm not arguing that the Turtles or some other losers do Dylan better, but every once in a great while, other people do his songs better than him - his spare lack of musical arrangements get in the way more than his voice.

Reader Comments

Justyn Dillingham,

Proably my favorite Dylan album. He'd get better bands later on, but his material was rarely this enjoyable. My favorite actually used to be "Mr. Tambourine Man" before I got tired of it.

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) *****

This is one of the four or five Most Important Albums in History; too bad I hardly ever listen to it. Every song is practically in the same damn key, the arrangements are all the same, there are at most three or four memorable original melodies throughout the entire album (most of the time he simply recycles the Standard Blues Melody - you know, the one that's used on 2/3 of the blues, country, and American folk songs ever written), and the backing band once again defines incompetent garage-band sloppy. Every critic on the planet kisses Dylan's ass without pointing out the man's obvious flaws, so excuse me for dwelling on these negative facts - but, let's face it, these are facts, genius songwriter though he is. Let's posit that apart from the lucky stroke of organ on "Like a Rolling Stone," courtesy Al Kooper, musically speaking there ain't much happening. Dylan goes completely electric for an entire album and changes the face of pop, but what holds up after all these years are the songs. Some of these songs are works of genius, and some aren't. The tempos are a bit more varied than on the mindlessly monotonous Bringing It All Back Home, which isn't to say that there's an obscene dearth of variety. Okay, now before every Dylan fanatic on the web starts flaming me for not seeing the man's genius, let's dwell on the album's positive aspects for a spell. And that would include the songs, of which all but three or so are classic additions to the canon of American song. "Like a Rolling Stone," broke the strictures of pop radio by becoming the first six-minute single to gain airplay, and it's one of the greatest rock'n'roll singles of all time: nobody's ever put down stupid rich bitches like ol' Bobby does here - "You been to the finest schools, Miss Lonely, but you know you only used to get juiced in it!" You can tell Dylan's a rocker at heart because he's at his best when he's angry, and he does a convincing rant as an insanely violent, jealous, and unreasonable God on the title track (well, that's just the way God was portrayed in the Old Testament. Read it sometime - one of the most bloodthirsty chronicles ever written). I have this friend named Scott who was once assigned to write the lyrics to his favorite song in elementary school. Scott shocked his teacher by writing "Desolation Row," from memory - it's an eight-minute ballad, if you weren't aware of what a feat that was. The sentiments of "Ballad of a Thin Man," aren't very attractive - I've never bought the bohemian bullshit that we're to feel superior to ordinary middle-class strugglers - but the delivery of the lines, "There's something going on here, but you don't know what it is - Do you, Mr. Jones?" are among the most cutting I've ever heard. And for the record, I think that Bob's just making up rhymes at random in "Queen Jane Approximately," - nice melody and harmonica riffing, but the lyrics don't make the least bit of sense (try to add them up literally sometime and you'll see what I mean).

Reader Comments

Eugene F. Cronin III,

Come on pal have you ever listened to highway 61? The lyrics are meaningless! I seriously think after opening with the great lyrics in Like A Rolling Stone, the album becomes a giant fuck you. Actually his whole career has been a giant fuck you. The songs are great, and the lyrics are not bad if you look at them for what they are supposed to be; a joke. Ballad of a Thin Man is one of the funniest songs I've ever heard, just check out this lyric, "You see this one eyed midget/Shouting the word, 'now'/And you say for what reason/And he says how/And you say what does this mean/And he screams back, 'You're a cow! Now give me some milk or else go home." You're telling me that's an inditement of the middle class? Paleeease. Desolation Row is also quite meaningless. His career after this is just trying to get idiots to draw conclusions from his songs that just aren't there. In the song "My Back Pages" from Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan pretty much explains that all of his previous political songs were bullshit, and now he knows better.

Justyn Dillingham,

I don't listen to this much either, but "Like A Rolling Stone" is still Dylan's nastiest and best rock song (maybe the best rock song ever, period), and overexposure still can't quite take away its stunning force. Revolutionary or not, this will never be one of my favorites; a lot of it seems dire to me. "Desolation Row" I've just rediscovered, though: an utterly lovely ballad. "Ballad Of A Thin Man," by the way, isn't just a poke at the middle class; it seems aimed at the press, who Dylan never liked much. Brian Jones thought it was about him, though.

Blonde On Blonde (1966) ****

The first double album in rock is also the first double album in rock that would have made a better single album. When Dylan's good, he's at his very, very best: he's improved since the last record by making most of the songs different enough from each other, and displaying a warm melodicism on several numbers that had all but disappeared under the careening wildcat mercury of Highway 61. Though the definitive recitation of "Just Like a Woman," was performed by Karen Black in Annie Hall (no, I'm kidding this time), it's one of Dylan's lovelier melodies - one of the rare Dylan tunes that you can almost hum. The pop-country fiddle stomp of "I Want You," presages the sound of Desire that he'd adopt a decade later - it's too bad he didn't employ that style more often, as it's quite pleasant. "Visions of Johanna," presages the haunted, hushed country sound of John Wesley Harding, as does the side-long closer, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," that has been truncated in half to fit the double album onto one CD. The sound Dylan's backup band achieves is fuller and more accomplished than on the previous album, though still crude - which is appropriate for such wildcat mercury numbers such as "Absolutely Sweet Marie," and the nicely titled, "Stuck In Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again," (or "Stuck In Lexicon With the Roget's Thesauraus Blues Again" as John Lennon would have it). As usual, sometimes Dylan gets off a good lyric, but mostly he's pulling the wool over the eyes of the boomer generation with his cleverly obscure, but basically meaningless verbiage. Which isn't to say that the way he delivers his lines doesn't make them sound poetic and important. However, there are too many generic throwaways like "Leopardskin Pillbox Hat," to justify this album's status as the greatest rock double of all time. Any record that starts off with the idiotic, proto-Cheech & Chong "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," ("Everybody must get stoned!") has to be docked a notch in my book. One more observation: it seems that Dylan has begun his process of mellowing out on this album. Most of the songs are love songs, with nary a protest number in sight. He was already drifting into a softer, more country direction before the motorcycle accident which put him out of commission for a year. Dylan missed the Summer of Love because of that accident, which means we missed out on the great psychedelic hippie Dylan album (maybe) -- which is good, because Dylan falling prey to Sgt. Pepper excess doesn't sound like a good idea. Not that he would have fallen for it anyway, I don't suppose.

Reader Comments

Justyn Dillingham,

This one's a lot poppier and upbeat than Highway 61; "Rainy Day Women" has gotten annoying, but there's a lot of classics - "Visions Of Johanna," "Just Like A Woman," "I Want You" - and overlooked gems like "Fourth Time Around" on here. Takes a long time to really get into, but one of Dylan's very best.

Bob Dylan & the Band: The Basement Tapes (rec. 1967; rel. 1975) **

After he'd recuparated from the motorcycle accident, Dylan holed up in Woodstock, NY at a house referred to as The Big Pink and jammed with a group of Canadians (by way of Arkansas) who called themselves the Band, because they were Dylan's backup band. The results became the most infamous bootleg of the late '60s, The Great White Wonder as it was most often referred to, until finally an official release was deigned proper since the demand for bootlegs was so high. I can't fathom what Greil Marcus sees in this motley collection of throwaways to write an entire book; to me, it's easy to see why Dylan didn't want these scraps on the market - the songs weren't ready for release. For every halfway decent tune, you get two or three slabs of rednecky slop. What's worse, most of the good songs here were rerecorded in far superior versions on the Band's debut, Music From Big Pink - and the ones that weren't were covered in far superior versions by those perennial Dylan scavengers, the Byrds. The Band sound like they usually do, the best bar band between southern Missouri and northern Arkansas - why anybody would think that's a good thing is beyond me, even if Levon Helm is an authentic Ozark hillbilly. Only Dylan completists need to hear this album of slight throwaways.

John Wesley Harding (1968) *****

Some folks prefer Dylan the Protest Singer, and some Dylan the Beatnik Obscurantist. Myself, I prefer Dylan the Narrative Storyteller, which is why I count this as my second favorite album of his. The atmosphere Dylan evokes is no longer modern America and its road system, but 19th century America and its horse and buggies. It's a powerfully evocative album on mood alone, and it contains as many genuine Dylan classics as any other work he's done. "All Along the Watchtower," is the best known song, but my favorite is the enigmatic morality tale, "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest." Or perhaps it's the reverent mysticism of "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," or the based on a true Western legend title track, or the perfidity-of-wommin' "As I Went Out One Morning." Or maybe I'll flip the record over and hear "I Pity the Poor Immigrant," (not a political protest song) and the Depression nostalgia of "I Am a Lonesome Hobo," one more time. Dylan moves in a quieter, more country direction on this album, which makes things easier on the ears than his painfully raw stabs at rockabilly circa '65. And there's one more major change in Dylan's overall sound: the songs are all short and to the point. There are a dozen songs in barely over half an hour, which can be shocking to someone used to Dylan's typical lengthy ramblings (I know I was). Not his most revolutionary work, simply some of his most listenable - intriguing and mysterious, perfect for summing up memories of the old, weird America.

Reader Comments

Justyn Dillinger,

I've always loved this one too. Shamefully ignored, and "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" is far more convincingly and poignantly religious than all of Dylan's Christian-era albums put together. The original "All Along The Watchtower" is as understated and brilliant as Dylan's ever been.

Nashville Skyline (1969) ****

Dylan's first lightweight, inconsequential album. Previously he had changed the course of pop music or at least made substantial waves with every album; from here on out, Dylan would never again be a revolutionary, but just another singer-songwriter. Of course Dylan's no run of the mill singer-songwriter, and while this record didn't change history, it's highly enjoyable. In fact it's the most listener-friendly album that Dylan has ever recorded, as he adopts a mellow croon for a set of straightforward country songs. Dylan as a soft rocker can be disconcerting at first, but when the soft rock is as good as "Lay Lady Lay," then who am I to argue? There's a nice duet with Johnny Cash, "Girl From the North Country," that stands as the record's highlight. Tunes like "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You," and "I Threw It All Away," are first-rate examples of country-rock. Of course there are a few throwaways, but what Dylan album doesn't have a few of those (answer: John Wesley Harding and Blood On the Tracks). Even people who hate Dylan for his "bad" voice find plenty to like. It's just not an Important Album. And it's not even a half hour long.

New Morning (1970) ***1/2

Strange little record. There are no classics here, and you get the feeling Dylan intended it that way; at first listen this is incredibly underwhelming, as all of the songs feel trivial and slight - and while, yes, they are mostly trivial and slight, they are all mostly enjoyable in a laid-back, supremely unambitious style. Dylan has never sounded warmer or more upbeat; with the exception of the odd dark chant "Father Night," that closes this weird record on a weirder note, emotionally all of the songs can be described as positive. That's pretty offthrowing for a guy whose primary inspiration has always been a lacerating negative energy; the title track is the most optimistic anthem he's ever written - "So happy just to be alive on this new morning with you." Dylan's deliberately downscaling his approach, celebrating the simple pleasures of domesticity and "kids who call me pa" as if he were Paul Freakin' McCartney raising rams on Junior's farm. It can hard to adjust to at first, but after wrapping your mind around the concept of a relaxed, easy-going, unambitious Dylan - qualities that contradict everything he stood for before - you'll find that most of these aren't half-bad. Sure, there are a few painful misfires - his sappiest love ballad so far, "Winterlude," his most irrating redneck country honk so far, "One More Weekend," and his crappiest poetry so far, "Dogs Run Free," which is in the running for the worst Dylan song ever. "If dogs run free, then why not me?" - wow, that's deep, man. The jazzy backup scat singing adds the rotten maggots to corpse. And why does "The Man in Me," find Bob shamelessly imitating Van Morrison, with all those la la la's?

Planet Waves (1974) ***

Will Robbie Robertson please shut up? His guitar is distractingly mixed up front, rudely inserting itself to parts of songs it was not invited, hogging the spotlight like a headache; the album was recorded in three days and sounds it, with the Band honkytonking the arrangements up with their typical hillbillyness but with unusual sloppiness. Dylan's songwriting muse continues to slide, as the album alternates between two basic styles - either bouncy throwaway hillbilly jigs or dark, dirgey broodings on his failing marriage. The reputed classic is "Forever Young," which already forecasts bland VH1 territory, and the jigged-up hillbilly version is totally useless. "Dirge" and "Wedding Song" go on too long with Dylan pouring his angst out in overly repetitive melodies, but "Going, Going, Gone," is close enough to a classic as Dylan could pen at this ebb in his career (though to truly hear its greatness, you'll have to seek out the Richard Hell cover; the vocal and performance here are too underproduced, practically of demo quality). "Tough Mama" and "On a Night Like This," are spirited country waltzes, good to shag a rug with but hardly classics; "Something There is About You," boasts a solid performance and decent lyrics about walking around Duluth in his youth with Danny Lopez (whoever that is, probably not even a real person). Frustratingly, this could have been a good album, but the Band is under-rehearsed and Dylan clearly is arrogant and/or lazy enough to think he could get away with half-writing his throwaways around half-assed. You don't, you lazy, arrogant fucker.

Blood On The Tracks (1975) *****

Dylan released his best album after several years of muddling, after many folks had counted him out. Obviously inspired by his divorce from a former Playboy bunny by the name of Sara, this is the greatest breakup album of all time. Dylan is at turns ruminative and vengeful, wistfully recapturing memories of the love affair that was, and wishing the damn bitch would go to hell. His melodies have never been stronger, and his skills as a lyricist are in top form, also - "Tangled Up In Blue," is as perfect as pop music gets. Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast, but you're a big girl now, it was only a simple twist of fate that gave me shelter from the storm, you're going to make me lonesome when you go just like Rimbaud. So if you see her, say hello, will you? She might be in Tangiers. Of course she's an idiot, babe, it's a wonder that she still knows how to breathe. Like they say, sometimes the only thing to do is keep on keepin' on. This is what country music ought to ideally sound like - beautifully stoic but humanly sentimental in the face of life's ups and downs in love after 30.

Desire (1975) ***1/2

Despite the title, only a few songs are about his ex-wife, the obvious one being the famous "Sara," that is alternately nice and mean to her ("Easy to look at, but so hard to define"). It's a good record that's something of letdown from the last masterpiece, full of squeaking violin courtesty Scarlet Rivera that can grown grating after a while. The fact that Dylan felt it necessary to bring in lyricist Jacques Levy to co-write all of the songs is distressing - this means that Dylan's lyrics are his among his simplest, and unfortunately, sometimes dumbest. The sound is fuller and more country-rockin' than on the last album, which works on the great opener, the eight-minute epic "Hurricane," about an unjustly sentenced heavyweight boxing champion. Unfortunately, the companion piece to "Hurricane," is the eleven-minute "Joey," a sentimental ode to the gangster Joey Gallo. Dylan thought that Joey Gallo was some sort of hero? Now that's taking your Edward G. Robinson pictures a little too seriously. There are nine songs that last nearly an hour, and for every decent tune there's one that's not that decent. Case in point: the unbearable, endless "Isis," that can't shutup and drones on forever - in other words, the prototype for a type of song Dylan would inflict on us every now and then for the next two decades. His earlier rambling epics were at least interesting - "Desolation Row," he would never write again. There are some lightweight throwaways that are at least musically adventurous enough to keep things interesting (I mean "musically adventurous" by Dylan's standards - let's face it, sonics have never been the man's strong point. Brian Wilson he ain't), such as the flamenco flavored "Romance in Durango" and the absurdly tongue in cheek "Mozambique." I mean, that last song has to be tongue in cheek, right? Mozambique is famine-stricken African nation that Dylan probably only knew from a map, and nobody's idea of paradise. A few years later he converted to Christianity and forgot how to write good songs, though I'm sure those two happenings are unrelated.

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Bringing it all back home