Once upon a time in a magical land, there lived a young troubadour named Bobby Dylan who was well loved by young people everywhere. Now mind you, Bobby had a far-from-beautiful singing voice, but that didn’t matter, because he made up for it with a gift for writing profound lyrics. Troubadour Dylan’s songs could be pretty and poetic, or they could be slashing and acerbic. They could be about the beauty of romance, or the horrors of world politics. In any case, Bobby Dylan’s music expressed the ideas that scores of youth were thinking, but few dared to say. For this reason, the young people elevated Dylan to the status of prophet and defender of the truth: a status that he would hold for many, many years.
But alas, those days of the young troubadour are long gone. Bob Dylan Is now well into middle age, and the lethargy and complacency generally associated with that age group is evident on his new release, Under the Red Sky. Not even the production of Don and David Was, nor the all-star assemblage of guest talent—including George Harrison, Al Kooper, Elton John and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan—can save this album from being any more than musical Novocain. Such a shame, considering the talent and past laurels of all involved.
Under the Red Sky does get off to a strong start, though, with a trashy-but-fun garage rocker titled “Wiggle Wiggle.” Unfortunately, the album dies soon afterward, slipping into lush-but-bland adult contemporary mode. Even when Dylan kicks up his heels and occasionally rocks out in a barrelhouse blues fashion, everything sounds uninspired. A few of these up-tempo tunes sound suspiciously like rewrites of Dylan’s own classic “From A Buick 6.” Even worse, the lyrics throughout Under the Red Sky are inconsequential, offering none of the unique insights and commentaries that this once-proud artist is famous for. It makes me sad to hear one of the great musical geniuses of the ‘sixties in such apparent decline.
True, Bob Dylan Is now forty-nine years old, but that is no excuse for making such substandard albums. Other artists of Dylan’s generation, like Neil Young and Lou Reed, have reaffirmed their credibility with recent releases that have been poignant, innovative and very contemporary. But until Bob Dylan can turn out such an album, I’ll regard him as what Johnny Rotten used to call a “B.O.F.”. That’s right...A Boring Old Fart.