I have discussed this before, but the way I got my pop music education was through services like Lala. I mostly used it to go through piles of lists. Best albums of all time, best of the 70s, 80s, etc. Going through every album on those lists that every music publication issues.
Towards the end of that time, I had artists I really loved, and I used this tech to go through their discographies. I had a ton of energy for it. Powered through a ton of music, just to get a full picture of artists I loved.
But, I never did it with Dylan. Cause Dylan got close to 40 studio albums. And that is just fucking daunting. So, I never did it, and eventually I just lost energy for it. Years passed.
And for whatever reason, I got the energy back at the start of this year. Did Nick Cave and after that, I wanted to tackle the big dog.
Instead of reviewing like 40 fucking albums, I just want to give a few observations.
1. No Surprises AKA The Classics Are Classics for a Reason
Going into this journey, I had previously heard 14 of the almost 40 records. Of those, like 10 of them are considered masterpieces. Of that list, there is probably 7-8 that have been in regular rotation in my listening habits, and like 4-5 that I think are perfect in every way.
And guess what, there isn’t hidden shit hanging out on those other records. Sure, there are some good songs on there. And there are some decent albums too.
But is there like the “OH MAN YOU GOT TO HEAR THIS DYLAN RECORD NO ONE TALKS ABOUT!!”
More than anything there is just a giant pile of meh.
I mean, my main takeaway from this project is, I wasn’t really missing anything (except for a few notes I mention below). I’m glad I did it. I learned a lot about an artist whose music has been all over my life. But, I don’t think I walked away with a ton of new music to put into the rotation.
2. How Do These Artists Pick Dylan Covers?
Lets talk about the track that was the match that started this fire. Nick Cave’s cover of Death is Not The End. I think more than any other record, I really wanted to get to Down in the Groove, so I could hear what he was hearing. Cause that is a great fucking song.
I don’t know what he was hear. That album is meh by design. I guess it shows why I am just a consumer and not a producer. CLEARLY, Nick Cave heard something in that album that I didn’t. Like I listened to Dylan’s original, and I am like… How did anyone pick this song on that record? Everything on that album blends together like butterscotch pudding at a nursing home.
Its just mush. Maybe I am just not tuned to that wavelength and it takes an artist to bring it to life. But either way, good on all those artists who have covered this. Cause I don’t hear what makes it great out of the original recording.
3. The Christian Period is the Worst
There is always big discussion about the “worst” Dylan period. Self Portrait/New Morning period gets tossed around a lot. Empire Burlesque/80s shame era gets tossed around too. But, to me, those era’s biggest crime is being boring. Just snooze fests.
The worst Dylan period by far is the Christian-era. And I don’t mean just cause we got songs about Jesus. Cause the first record in the bunch is great. And it gets the laurels it deserves.
No, I am talking about the other two records. The real shame. When Dylan decided he is Mahalia Jackson. Dylan doing straight up gospel style tunes. How embarrassing.
Like look, the song writing sucks. Fresh gospel tunes can be carried sometimes by excellent performances, and we don’t have that. Instead we are left with Dylan leading a gospel choir through his tunes.
Saved and Shot of Love are easily the worst thing Dylan has ever done. Like yeah, Tempest and Triplicate are boring slogs. But Saved and Shot of Love have genuinely bad songs.
If you want to hear the worst Dylan. Go for that (in my opinion). You will get your shame.
4. Some of Those Latter-Day Albums Are Really Good AKA I Am STILL Thinking About Alicia Keys
Dylan had a run in the late 90s/early 2000s that is fantastic. This should be a surprise to no one. A lot of positive critical press at the time. But if you are like me, you tend to ignore some of that stuff. Many later day albums get praise but only some of them are really great.
Dylan has three. I will highlight Modern Times, cause that is the one that caught me by surprise. Great songwriting, composition, execution. Everything you want from an end of career artists.
Once we got to the 2010s, Dylan decided to like make albums that were like….about the fact that he was old and dying, and it just….doesn’t work as well.
I would stick to that middle-2000s period. There is good stuff there.
My thoughts on Dylan remain the same before this experience as they are now. The man is a genius. I dont know how many people can have this much material and have 1/4 be untouchable masterpieces. That is a strong fucking batting average.
And I may go back to revisit some of the obscure ones. I feel like I should give Infidels another spin. And I know I will be back to try to decipher Down in the Groove.
But, I leave you dear reader with one thought. Enjoy some Dylan today. The man has so much great shit. Luxuriate in it. Enjoy it. Be glad it made it into this plane of existence.