09 September 2006

Bob Dylan Approximately

Speaking of old potheads, they all seem to be raving about Bob Dylan's new album, here, for instance, and here. I actually know a few young potheads who feel similarly, and no doubt there are people out there of various ages who, despite being unimpaired by drugs, genuinely love the record.

I haven't heard it, and based on the plethora of boring, annoying and embarrassing stuff he's produced over the past 35 years, won't go out of my way to listen to it, at least not if it involves spending any of my own hard-earned (or even easily-earned) cash for the privilege. I say that as someone who virtually worshipped the man during his 1960s heyday, and who could still probably sing every single verse of "Desolation Row" from memory. And although Dylan never made a consistently good album after John Wesley Harding (I know purists will claim Blonde On Blonde marks the great dividing line, but I'm liberal - to a degree), he still managed to come up with some great songs into the 1970s. Why, just this morning I was idly strumming the guitar and found myself breaking into the first verse of "One More Cup Of Coffee For The Road," and it wasn't only because the chords closely resemble those of an unreleased Potatomen song.

And the thing is, I like many of Dylan's influences, I like his understated, wry, old-timey approach to things. The few snippets of his radio show that I've heard were brilliant. But since the 1970s he's produced so much musical crap, so much smugly self-indulgent diddling that I find it hard to give him another chance. Especially after the excruciatingly bad live concert I endured a few years ago, in which he made some sort of "artistic" point by deliberately turning nearly every one of his classic songs into a tuneless throwaway.

Hey, I'd like to think the guy can return from the wilderness and be powerful and relevant again. I'm Catholic, after all; we're all about redemption. But after three, almost four decades of critics hailing each new turkey of an album with, "Dylan is back on form, his best work since...(pick an era)," and having it never be anywhere remotely near true, do you understand why I might have my doubts?

If any of you out there are interested, tell me why I'm wrong, or am being unnecessarily closed-minded. Bear in mind that I really don't care for blues-style music, which I understand features prominently on the new album.


jb. said...

"I'm liberal -- to a degree." Was that an effort to drop a Dylan reference, even?

I think drawing the line at John Wesley Harding is totally fair. I might even say Nashville Skyline is alright, given that it's a solid record even though it doesn't really sound like Dylan. I hardly blame you for being unwilling to indulge him. But I do agree with a lot of the critics-- the last few albums he's done really have been awfully good, and ever since he relinquished Jesus he seems to have returned to a more humble sound which seems to suit him fine.

I mean, comparatively. None of these records are Highway 61 Revisited, but then again few things are.

Nick G. said...

im not much of a blues person myself, but ive heard a few tracks off of the new album, and while they arnt too bad...i just cant get into them.
as much as i love Dylan, it makes me incredibly sad that he has become so...pompous? i think thats why he refuses to actually sing any of his classics, in favor of mumbling on level to rivel Tim Armstrong.
I think that after blond on blond he had some really great songs ('man in the long black coat' from Oh Mercy is, lyrically, the best song hes ever written, but the way he decided to sing it makes me want to insert something sharp into my ears) but its just hard to listen to those albums to find them, and honestly, years of punk rock have seriously dampened my attention span for any song longer than 3 or 4 minutes unless its really uptempo.

Jim Testa said...

Dylan hasn't been writing anything but variations on blues changes for about 20 years. This new record is actually a lot less samey-sounding and more entertaining than the critically-hailed Time Out Of Mind, which bores me to tears. I wouldn't shell out retail for it, but if somebody burned you a copy, I'd at least give it a listen.