Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Bob Dylan - Under The Red Sky (1990)
Released September 1990
After the glory that was "Oh Mercy", Bob Dylan unfortunately attracted the brickbats once again with this (comparatively) half-baked effort, released the following year. It has always reminded me somewhat of 1988's "Down In The Groove" in that it was considered to be awful, but isn't actually that bad, but is certainly no work of genius. There are a host of cameo musicians on the album however - Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, George Harrison, David Crosby and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
1. Wiggle Wiggle
2. Under The Red Sky
4. Born In Time
5. TV Talkin' Song
6. 10,000 Men
7. 2 x 2
8. God Knows
9. Handy Dandy
10. Cat's In The Well
The opener "Wiggle Wiggle" attracted derision because of its inane lyrics - "wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup", however, if you ignore that, it is just a lively, pounding piece of upbeat bluesy rock, such as Dylan had been trotting out in this sleep. The title track tried to reprise the piano and organ sound from "Like A Rolling Stone", even using original keyboard man Al Kooper. "Unbelievable" is actually an enjoyable rocking romp, with a sixties Animals sort of sound at times and some killer harmonica. I really like it. Nothing wrong with this track at all. If it had been on "Oh Mercy" nobody would have batted an eyelid. Similarly, the sombre, beautifully bassy "Born In Time" has real echoes of that album, (unsurprising as it dates from the sessions for that album), although Dylan's voice at times falters, it has to be said. It has a great guitar solo on it, too, though. What the hell, I like this too. I'm not a blind devotee who simply likes everything, but I seriously do like it. I like Bob Dylan, and I like most of what he has recorded. That's just the way it is.
"TV Talkin' Song" is another fast-paced rocker. In it he refers to Elvis shooting his TV set. Bruce Springsteen referred to the same incident a year later in "57 Channels And Nothing On". Coincidence? Bruce has always been a bit of a magpie. There are hints of his track in this one, it has to be said, although it is a tad faster. "10,000 Men" ploughs the same blues furrow. These sort of tracks were all lauded on "Together Through Life" or "Tempest". I have to admit, though, that the material on there is more fulfilled. On here, most of the bluesy tracks end at bit too soon. "2 x 2" isn't particularly great, it has to be said, although it has a great piano backing (probably Elton John or Bruce Hornsby). "God Knows" harks back to the late seventies/early eighties Christian albums and it only a so-so track, but when the rock bit kicks in it pounds pretty hard, with some impressive guitar and drums. In many ways, the instrumental sound on the album is better than the songs itself. The song's refrain sounds a hell of a lot like John Lennon's "Tight A$".
"Handy Dandy" has a swirling organ intro just like some of the live recordings of "Like A Rolling Stone". Even the verse structure, drum rolls and guitar parts sound like it too, which is all a bit bizarre. Although again I quite like it, you have to wonder what was in Dylan's mind when he decided to try and write a carbon copy of one of his most famous songs, twenty-five years later. "Cat's In The Well" is a rockabilly meets Cajun, upbeat and thoroughly enjoyable number to finish with.
Yes, this album undoubtedly is nowhere near the quality of Bob Dylan's best albums, not by a long way. Indeed it is probably in the batch of those considered his worst. Yes, there are critics who deride the album, largely because of "Wiggle Wiggle". Despite all that, I had a pleasant half hour or so listening to it and will do again next year when I dig it out again.
- August 22, 2018