The Unpopular Argument: Bob Dylan Edition -- "Desire" > "Blood on the Tracks"
I teased this in the Morning Mix last Friday and it seemed to rile up a few people. To answer one commenter, no I'm not trying to be cooler-than-thou -- that just happens naturally. I actually do think "Desire" is a better album than its predecessor, the widely-lauded "Blood on the Tracks." So let's use this as a launching point for a new series. Think of it as a cousin to Please Explain to Me.
Now I'll freely admit that I love "Desire" maybe a bit more than I should. I'd put myself as an OTIV Dylan fan, and "Desire" is my favorite of his non-canon albums. One of the only things I have hanging on the walls of my apartment is a Steve Keene painting of the album's cover. I love the fiddle that's all over it. I love the way Dylan sings with such conviction. I love the overall vibrancy. I love that he gets back to the storyteller mode of his early folk stuff, sometimes with even more anger ("Hurricane"), sometimes just to spin a yarn ("Isis"). I love the playfulness of "Mozambique" and "Black Diamond Bay." I love the way he sings in Spanish on "Romance in Durango." I love the aching devotion of "Sara." I even love the album from which the cover image was "borrowed."
There's no other Dylan record in his massive discography that sounds like "Desire." He never sang with such gusto or wrote such ridiculously rollicking songs again. Plus, the live shows from this era use the album's sound as a template and they are some of his very best. It's another side of Bob Dylan. (For the record: "Joey" sucks. Hard. It'd be a lot easier to defend this album if that song wasn't on there.)
Just because I don't like "Blood on the Tracks" as much as "Desire" doesn't mean that I think it's a bad album. Of course not. I mean, come on. It's a brilliant album.
It all comes down to personal preferences, of course. But since I'm a hardcore zero-sum kinda dude, let's explore what's wrong with "Blood on the Tracks." It might be a cop-out of a main argument, but the fact that the (widely available) bootleg version of the album ("Blood on the Tapes") is far superior than the official version is impossible to overlook.
"Blood on the Tracks" sounds like an album released in 1975. I don't consider that a good thing. It's got that slick, shiny production, which doesn't serve these intensely personal songs very well.
On "Tapes," "Tangled Up in Blue" finds Dylan unaccompanied, just voice and guitar, and the stark arrangement is much more effective. (Another version adds bass to the mix; it's still better than the full band version on the official release.) As for the songs themselves, they're almost all winners, but it's an exhausting listen, delving into Dylan's personal matters like that.
In a comment about why I didn't like "BOTT," agl132 offered up "you have no human emotions" as a possibility. If only! But I will admit that having the curtain pulled back like this isn't my favorite way to experience Dylan. That smirking mystery is gone. What we have instead is one of the best confessional singer-songwriter albums ever. And I'll take a lively set of story-songs instead.
By David Malitz |
May 6, 2009; 12:13 PM ET
The Unpopular Argument
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