Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bob Dylan - Down in The Groove (1988)

Released May 1988

After two eighties-production, synthesiser-drenched albums in "Empire Burlesque" and "Knocked Out Loaded", Dylan tried to get back to a more bluesy, rootsy sound with some of the material on this almost universally-panned failure of an album in 1988.


1. Let's Stick Together
2. When Did You Leave Heaven
3. Sally Sue Brown
4. Death Is Not The End
5. Had A Dream About You, Baby
6. Ugliest Girl In The World
7. Silvio
8. Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)
9. Shenandoah
10. Rank Strangers To Me

So, is it time for a reassessment? The first track "Lets Stick Together", previously done by Canned Heat and Bryan Ferry certainly rocks a fair bit, in an upbeat, guitar-driven, chunky riff blues style. I like it and it is certainly a relief after some of the keyboard-dominated, backing vocal-drowned songs from the last two albums. This is, at least, a down 'n' dirty blues. Bryan Ferry used a similar riff on his version of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on his "Dylanesque" album. "When Did You Leave Heaven"? is a laid-back devotional song that would not have been out of place on "Shot Of Love". "Sally Sue Brown" is a blues cover dealt with in a rousing, enthusiastic fashion. "Death Is Not The End" is the first Dylan original on the album. It begins with a lovely, evocative harmonica and has a fetching, quiet tender as Dylan tells us, sonorously, that "death is not the end". It has a nice sound to it, and a certain laid-back beauty. There are all sorts of assorted musicians on this album, almost too many to mention, but it does ensure that the music is of a high quality throughout.

"Had A Dream About You Baby" is an organ-driven rocking blues that, had it appeared on "Blonde On Blonde" would have been hailed as a work of genius. To me, it is not too dissimilar to some of the  upbeat bluesy numbers from that 1965-66 period. "Ugliest Girl In The World" is another fast tempo number with clearly throwaway, tongue-in-cheek lyric. I really haven't got a problem with this album.  It is the superior product to the previous two. I think most people seem to accept that the shuffling, rhythmic, gospelly fun of "Silvio" is a good track that begs more than one listen, for sure. Dylan sounds confident and enthusiastic on the track and the backing vocals add their own vitality to it.

It seemed to be de rigeur to slate pretty much every second Dylan release as being an "embarrassment" and praise every other one as being "a return to form". This is a myopic view in my opinion. "Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)" is a soulful piece of gospel. Sure, it's not "Tangled Up In Blue" but what the heck, I like it anyway. Similarly, if Dylan wants to record "Shenandoah" in a folky, gospel style, so what? Again, I actually really like it. Springsteen gets away with it, why not Dylan? I think it's great. The closing track of this short album, "Rank Strangers To Me" has Dylan at his bleakest. It is a slow-tempo, haunting ballad of the sort that the afore-mentioned Springsteen would do over the next few years too. It is a bit of a hidden gem, with a sumptuous bass line.

Many have cited this as a nadir in Dylan's career. I would beg to disagree a little, I do not mind the album as much as they seem to. It is certainly nowhere near as bad as "Dylan" and, personally, I much prefer it to the strange "New Morning". Whenever I listen to it, I am always pleasantly surprised.


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