Saturday, 18 August 2018

Bob Dylan - Empire Burlesque (1985)


Released June 1985

The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney.....they all succumbed to the synthesised curse that was mid-eighties music. Bob Dylan, seemingly, was no different, and this album has been roundly criticised ever since for being an appalling, over-synthesised waste of time. Every time I listen to it, I expect the worst because of this, and I am always pleasantly surprised, to be honest. Yes, it is not the match of 1983's "Infidels", but it is nowhere near as bad as some say, nor even quite as synthesiser-dominated as it has been accused of being, either. He did don an awful eighties jacket for the cover though!


1. Tight Connection To My Heart
2. Seeing The Real You
3. I'll Remember You
4. Clean Cut Kid
5. Never Gonna Be The Same Again
6. Trust Yourself
7. Emotionally Yours
8. When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky
9. Something's Burning Baby
10. Dark Eyes

"Tight Connection To My Heart" is a lengthy, gospelly call-and-response number with hints of the previous album, "Infidels". The upbeat "Seeing The Real You" is also a bluesy reminder of some of that album, while "I'll Remember You" is a delicious, yearning love song with some excellent piano and organ breaks, big drum sound, addictive bass and Dylan on fine vocal form. "Clean Cut Kid" is a barroom bluesy rocker that has Dylan sounding as if he is having a good time. The sound is good, crystal clear and the backing vocals and lead guitar are top notch. Dylan could still rock and here was the proof. This is not a bad track, by any stretch of the imagination. I really like it. An enjoyable, underrated song. "Never Gonna Be The Same Again" is, admittedly, though, pretty blighted by its eighties keyboards. It is a bit of a throwaway, both musically and lyrically, unfortunately. Elton John put out a lot of material like this in the same period.

"Trust Yourself" is no lyrical masterpiece but it does have a big, bassy insistent groove and another strong, impassioned Dylan vocal, like something from his "preaching" years of 1979-1981. There is an intoxicating bass line that runs throughout it, too. Because I don't listen to this as much as other Dylan albums, listening to it now I am almost enjoying it as I would a new album. That can only be a good thing. "Emotionally Yours" is an orchestrated, tender love song apparently written for Elizabeth Taylor(?). Its chorus definitely taps into "Forever Young" but it does suffer from over-the-top eighties production.

"When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky" is the album's tour de force. Again, though, its contemporary production overshadows it somewhat. A far better version of it can be found on "The Bootleg Series 1-3", where Dylan is backed by Steve Van Zandt on guitar and Roy Bittan on piano from Bruce Springsteen's E St. Band. They truly rock it up E St. style and you can almost sense Dylan feeding off it and really enjoying himself. The version on here is far more trundling and, in comparison, lifeless. Not that it is bad, but that version just cooks, big time. There are some excellent percussion parts at the end of this one, though.

"Something's Burning, Baby" is another hark back to the devotional material, even though it is a love song. Dylan's vocal is good and the electric guitar chops are good, but there is another production problem, it has to be said. Given a starker, less melodramatic backing, it may have been a much better song, there are some great lyrics in it. I have to admit that by the end of the album, the production is beginning to get a tad tiresome. "Dark Eyes", though, is completely different - a stark, folky song that sounds like the set of material he would do seven or eight years later on "Good As I Been To You" and "World Gone Wrong". A pointer to the future, perhaps?

NB - despite being supposedly "remastered" for the "Complete Works Box Set", the sound still sounds slightly under par to me, a bit bassier but that's it. For me the only truly decent Dylan remasters are those released as "HDCD" remasters. They all have wonderful clarity and warmth of sound.


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