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.
As a child, although I didn’t fully realise it at the time, music was a contentious subject in my family. At an age where I didn’t think of such things, my parents had already pitched their flag in the cultural landscape of conservative (in a political as well as musical sense). In this middle of the road, anything from the mid ‘60s onwards was often viewed with an element of suspicion. If a music artist was male and had a good classic voice, they were acceptable to my mother’s ears (Tom Jones was about as radical as she got). The Beatles, incidentally, where shunned, and still are, no matter how many accolades they get. My Dad’s taste was broader, but his nostalgic affinity with the ‘40s Big Band sound eclipsed any possible awareness of then current sounds. The counter cultural revolution of the late ‘60s was the epitome of everything wrong with the younger crowd. Older than the average parents for my generation, Mum and Dad’s entertainment tastes were firmly rooted in the 1950s and early ‘60s.
There was an exception, however; a contemporary music act who my parents happily tolerated, even if they rarely bought their music. I speak of a band with a name I could remember mainly as it was a simple and potentially meaningless moniker: ABBA. Through some act of immunity, this artist’s music escaped the culture filter that parents often unknowingly surround their young children with. So this band came to my attention at a very young age, and became my first musical love. In honesty, their place in my affections has not dimmed in over thirty years, no matter how seriously or fervently I’ve pursued other musical attractions. They also rose above any other sounds I was hearing at that time, by pure virtue of their unique qualities; qualities that at such an impressionable age are likely to cause a second listen. They sounded harmonious, catchy and oddly different. I didn’t really know what the female voices were singing about either, except it sounded vaguely glamorous and grown up, sometimes slightly forbidden. Only now, do I appreciate how adult ABBA are. They didn’t concern themselves much with the usual deviant topics of rock n’ roll, but rather the more mature themes of marriage, divorce and sometimes (let’s be frank) sex. However, by ‘sex’ I mean the grown up responsible kind, not usually the kind the likes of AC/DC may have been screaming enthusiastically about. Still, ABBA could do frisky. ABBA aren’t obviously the most sexual group out there, but listen to the Glam rock stomp of “Rock me”. They’re not singing about ordering pizza. Elsewhere, the group could actually be downright silly. Whereas “Summer Night City” positively reeks of beer and sex, the likes of “Bang-A-Boomerang” tread a bold lyrical path on the edge of the ludicrous. Continue reading