Saturday, June 13, 2009
Rating Bob Dylan's 35 Studio Albums
Bobology. I find it a truly tiresome science. I've always wondered why so many people put so much effort into understanding a person whose most essential quality is his refusal to be defined. Isn't it much more fun to just sit back, listen and enjoy the music without needing to write a dissertation about how a certain line pertains to his second marriage and how this event influenced that song and blah, blah, blah?
That said, I've spent 8 billion hours of my life listening to Dylan, and have naturally formed some strong opinions about his work. Since I know fate of the free world hinges on the following material, I'll waste no more time on introductory blather. My only self-imposed limit is a 15-word-or-fewer description. Ratings are, as always, out of 5 McBones.
Bob Dylan - 3 McBones. Early signs and greenhorn exuberance. Favorite Track: Song to Woody.
The Freewheeling Bob Dylan - 5 McBones. First foray into undiluted genius. FT: A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall.
The Times They Are A-Changin' - 5 McBones. Perfecting his craft with another ten flawless songs. FT: Boots of Spanish Leather.
Another Side of Bob Dylan - 5 McBones. Apt title. First signs of sloughing the folk mantle. FT: My Back Pages.
Bringing it All Back Home - 5 McBones. Starts to piss off his base. FT: Love Minus Zero/No Limit.
Highway 61 Revisited - 5 McBones. Completely alienates his base. Changes music forever. FT: Desolation Row.
Blonde on Blonde - 5 McBones. Sixth straight perfect album. Bitter folkies burn his image in effigy. FT: Memphis Blues Again.
John Wesley Harding - 5 McBones. Spooky and spare. Side A is arguably his finest work. FT: All Along the Watchtower.
Nashville Skyline - 4.5 McBones. Inserts himself into the country discussion. Teams with Johnny Cash. Earth's foundations shake. FT: Girl from the North Country.
Self Portrait - 2 McBones. After 33 years, I'm still not sure what's going on here. Oddly entertaining though. FT: The Mighty Quinn.
New Morning - 3 McBones. Obscure, at times charming, slightly erratic letdown. FT: Three Angels.
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid - 4.5 McBones. First-rate soundtrack for a first-rate film. FT: Knockin' on Heaven's Door.
Dylan - 0.5 McBones. Though few know it, the expression WTF!? was invented for this album. FT: The Ballad of Ira Hayes.
Planet Waves - 3 McBones. Decent album with The Band. FT: Not sure I have one. Wedding Song maybe?
Blood on the Tracks - 5 McBones. The greatest album ever recorded. End of discussion. FT: If You See Her, Say Hello.
The Basement Tapes - 4 McBones. A boatload of awesome, rambunctious, sometimes incomprehensible songs. FT: Million Dollar Bash.
Desire - 4.5 McBones. Possibly his most underrated work. Sings in Spanish! FT: Oh Sister.
Street-Legal - 4 McBones. Actually his most underrated work. Song Señor not sung in Spanish. FT: Changing of the Guards.
Slow Train Coming - 3 McBones. Burgeoning Jesus freakdom. Answers mystery of how animals were named. FT: Slow Train.
Saved - N/A. Yikes! I'm not saved and not trying get saved, so I don't listen to this much. FT: Hmm. I'll get back to you on that one someday.
Shot of Love - 3.5 McBones. Also Jesus-y, but way underrated. Actually good. Totally forgotten. FT: Every Grain of Sand.
Infidels - 4 McBones. End of the born-again phase, thank God. FT: Jokerman.
Empire Burlesque - 3 McBones. Slightly overrated and synth-y, but his last good album before the plunge into darkness. FT: Dark Eyes.
Knocked out Loaded - 1.5 McBones. Whoa. This is not good. Completely salvaged by the epic and unforgettable...FT: Brownsville Girl.
Down in the Groove - 1.0 McBones. Blech! Sorry, Darin. Double blech! FT: Silvio, by a mile.
Oh Mercy - 4 McBones. Bright ray of light in a truly murky decade. FT: Most of the Time.
Under the Red Sky - 1.0 McBones. Cool title, bad record. Beginning and, happily, end of the Don Was Era. FT: Born in Time, I guess.
Good as I Been to You - 3.5 McBones. Shedding demons with awesome takes on traditional ballads. FT: Arthur McBride.
World Gone Wrong - 4 McBones. Virtuosic folk and blues interpretations. He could make 50 records like this. FT: Delia.
Time out of Mind - 5 McBones. Almost dies. Retaps his genius. Broods on death. FT: Not Dark Yet.
Love and Theft - 5 McBones. The Ulysses of records. Draws from every source imaginable. FT: Mississippi (OK, I know this is a leftover from TOoM, but I regard this as his finest vocal recording, so lay off).
Modern Times - 5 McBones. Possibly his modern masterpiece. FT: Workingman Blues.
Together Through Life - 4.5 McBones. One wonders how long he can keep this up. FT: If You Ever Go to Houston.
Tempest - 5 McBones. Blood-soaked brilliance. Even the ballads are steeped in death. FT: Tempest.