Bob Dylan- Desire
I always recognised Dylan’s lyrical strengths, but it took me a fair while to really appreciate his musicianship. Even his vocals, long the aural equivalent of Marmite, are the expressive tool his songs need. There is character and authenticity in that voice that not all the innumerable Dylan covers have. Dylan’s ‘60s work still stands tall (particularly the ‘trilogy’ of Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde). But it’s Desire, his 1975 album (released in the new year of ’76), which has risen in my estimation. His band are so good here, and there are moments were you can hear every chord change and breath; it’s wonderfully immersive. It’s a hugely collaborative effort as well, with Dylan working with Jacques Levy on the lyrics and Dylans’ long time Columbia Records associate Don Devito is given a production credit here. The musicians are top class too: violinist Scarlet Rivera, bassist Rob Stoner and drummer Howard Wyeth of The Rolling Thunder crew, and vocalists Emmylou Harris and Ronee Blakley. I’ll be honest here as well; I can recognise that the production isn’t always as tight as it should have been, given the quality of the songwriting, but the vocals and those amazing drums keep it vital and engaging.
Desire, is, ultimately, a flawed album. A case could be made for all Dylan’s albums being flawed in some way, as they never sound like they’ve got the production care the songs deserved, but as ever the songs do truly make up for any other minor shortcoming, and what songs they are. I have the fondest memories of “Hurricane”, “One More Cup of Coffee” and “Mozambique” blasting out of my ex-girlfriend’s VW van as we zipped down the motorway to the beach at the height of summer. She introduced me to this album. It’s because of her that Dylan’s earlier album Blood on the Tracks is such a bittersweet listen now; a cutting break-up album, as many of you will already know. That’s her album now and always will be; but this one? Well, this I listen to far more, and it’s a privilege to have got to know it. My favourite Dylan album.