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20 Pounds Of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

JUNE 2002

You want Love And Theft reviews? I got Love And Theft reviews. So let’s crack on then.

Steffan Radlmaier, writing in Germany’s Nurnberger Nachrichten, reckoned that, unlike Time Out Of Mind, “Love And Theft doesn’t have the effect of a mellow late work but of a timeless, fresh classic.”. whilst Suddeutsche Zeitung’s Karl Bruckmaier insisted that it featured “hard rock and demimonde tearjerkers. Performed with the voice of a bad wolf who gargles with paving stones.” Fair enough, I’ll have some of whatever he’s been having.

Die Welt’s Michael Pilz merely concluded that “It is not his best, but one of the cleverest  and most friendly”  and Charles P Schum, writing in Switzerlands Neue Luzerner Zeitung, found it “interesting, exciting and… wonderful.” But predicted that “it will not go down as a milestone in pop history. In Switzerland’s Basler Zeitung, Martin Schafer was pleased to discover that Dylan has finally become the songs and dance man he always wanted to be and Alfred Wuger, in Schaffhauser Nachrichten, was equally pleased to discover that he could dance to it but was somewhat unsure as to whether the album actively encouraged a good old singalong. Best not to, Alfred.

Meanwhile, over in America, the Cleveland Scene’s Carlo Wolff was enthusiastic enough, but is Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee really “ a driven, fascinating variant on Blood On the Tracks’ Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts”? Kevin B.O’Reilly, reviewing in the Columbia Chronicle, was relieved to announce that  “Love And Theft is not a disappointment, but in some ways marks an improvement over the ethereal Time Out Of Mind.”

In the wake of September 11th, The Straits Times’ Paul Zach not only titled his review “Love plus Ground Zero” but wondered whether it was a mere coincidence that Dylan rewrote the line,”Rain pouring down” in Sheryl Crow’s version of Mississippi  to read “pain pouring down.”; “…history’s greatest men and women from Dante and Da Vinci to Einstein and Kubrick have always seemed to have a direct line to some other plane of existence.” Salon.com’s Ellen Willis also tried to relate the album to post September 11th America in a meandering lengthy review and found herself ultimately resisting it, just as she  did with Time Out Of Mind, because it lacks the irony of his earlier work, even though “it’s seductive stuff, at moments as compelling as anything Dylan has ever done.”

In the Cleveland Free Times, Peggy Latkovich claimed that it was “not the worst of Dylan, nor is it the best … the best of these tracks have a laser like focus, a leanness of text and music.. The worst have the queasy blurriness of  a hangover.” The Edmonton Sun’s Mike Ross found that he couldn’t get enough of Summer Days and that he was like “ a three-year old on a sugar high who’s discovered the Barnet Song for the first time.” Similarly, the Seattle Times’ Patrick MacDonald sat down to decipher the lyrics when he  first played it but, as soon as the opening number kicked in, “felt more like dancing than taking notes”, even though, of course, every self-respecting Dylan fan (a) takes notes even when he’s having a crap and (b) cannot dance.

Dylan author Tim Riley, reviewing for publicbroadcast.net, admits that Love And Theft comes out of a big aesthetic nowhere.” And concludes that “It’s too little too late, and in no way makes up for all those flaccid records or betraying Sinead. But somehow it’s enough.” U was o-kay until I got to the “betraying Sinead” bit then I discovered just how difficult it actually is to laugh and throw up at the same time. The New York Daily News’ Jim Farber had nothing to say about the mouthy Irish slaphead but much about Love And Theft, not least Dylan’s voice ; “Vocally, Dylan never sounded more wonderfully wrecked…both sonically and lyrically, the clouds have cleared… “I’ll die before I turn senile,” he growls towards the album’s end. With evidence like this, who would doubt him?”

A brief review by Dale McGarrigle in the Bangor Daily News concluded that “Even if he’s no longer the spokesman for a generation, Love And Theft shows he still has plenty to offer as a musician and a songwriter.” In the Louisville Cardinal, Jacob Lee thought it was “easily Bob Dylan’s best work in years … superior to anything he’s done since the mid-70’s” and The Phantom Tollboth’s Steve Stockman gleefully announced; “It’s official – Bob Dylan can make two good records in  arrow!” Steve Dollar of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution warns against assuming that the album is merely an exercise in nostalgia;”…If he’s living in the past, rarely has he sounded as engaged in the moment” whilst the Daily Pennsylvanian’s Will Ulrich declares it “a light – hearted and enjoyable work that, at the same time, mines the history of American Blues and rock and roll.”

One of the best reviews – Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune – succinctly sums up Dylan’s (and Love And Theft’s) position in 2001;  “It’s a worthy bookend for Time Out Of Mind, together they add up to the best back-to-back Dylan discs since Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde reshaped rock 35 years ago. Dylan no longer commands the culture as he did then, when everyone from the Beatles  to the Rolling Stones had to follow his lead or risk  eating his dust. Now as the dust clears, the culture no longer revolves around his every album, which has reinvigorated Dylan’s muse. Unencumbered by commercial pressures or expectations, he is free to do anything he wants, and the possibilities once again seem limitless.” Tom Moon, in the Philadelphia Enquirer, awarded it four stars:”… There aren’t many happily-ever-afters to be found in these tales, where doing the right thing can bring disaster, and devotion is rewarded with humiliation. Yet no matter how dire his people’s rambles, Dylan  refuses to let them give up and brood. Where Time Out Of Mind was a series of meditations steeped in shadowy twilight, Love And Theft finds Dylan lunging for the gut.”

Another nice review appeared in the Berkshire Eagle, courtesy of Seth Rogovy; “…Love And Theft is fresh-sounding, upbeat and electric in every sense of the word. Dionysian and Apollonian, and quintessentially American.” Gadfly’s Peter Stone Brown found on the album “not one misplaced note, not one sloppy arrangement” and signs off his review with; “That Bob Dylan could pull this album out of his bag of tricks at this time is no small achievement. Yes, the Bob Dylan of another time and place could not possibly have made this album. He had to get where he is now to do it. As a good friend of mine said after hearing it, “it’s like he woke up and remembered who he is.”

The wonderfully named Isaih Trost, reviewing in Guitar World Acoustic, found all of Dylan’s influences – blues, country, jazz, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley, not to mention his own work circa 1965 – evident on the album, though “it is not stiff, mannered or overly reverent – or any of the other things that make most tribute albums so forgettable. For one thing, these  aren’t cover versions  of old classics, but Dylan songs featuring his liveliest writing in years.” In the Village Voice, Greg Tate tied the album up with Miles Davis, post-September 11th America and the apocalypse in a labyrinth of a review:”..it is in Sugar Baby, the album’s swan song, a final address to a tearful, fearful nation, that this record’s kinder, gentler, crustier, creakier Dylan quietly dons his gold lame glittersuit one last time and goes for the jugular with run-down , melancholic glee…Whether he’s speaking as Dylan the martyred lover or as some kind of Jesus, the message appears abundantly clear; These may be the last days, but not even Armageddon is going to save us from growing up, and our learning curve remains steep.”

In Australia’s The Age, Warwick McFayden again compared it with Dylan’s  mid-70’s work and even with his mid-60’s classics; “…One thing that isn’t in doubt now is that we are seeing in Bob Dylan a renaissance. He has embraced a line he recorded more than 30 years ago; “He not busy being born is busy dying”. This is the proof.”

Just a couple more  reviews to look at this month before we move on to a few other things. UK’s Q magazine amazingly  awarded it four stars (while glowing reviews from Mojo and Uncut were pretty much a dead cert, I had anticipated Q as being the wild card in the pack.) John Harris not only wisely considered Sugar Baby to be Idiot Wind Revisited 27 years later but proclaimed that “Bob Dylan has followed an excellent album with a very good one. And that hasn’t happened since 1976.” In Ireland’s Hot Press, Liam Mackey also placed it in the Very good category, singling out Mississippi, High Water and Sugar baby as three of Dylan’s very best songs;”…Bob Dylan has painted more than his fair share of masterpieces; I don’t believe Love And Theft is another one but it does add a couple of great songs to the canon, and for it’s sheer exuberance, good humour and companionability, may yet come to be among the most fondly regarded of all his albums.”

A few weeks later and Bob was back on the road for his most anticipated tour in years. The Spokane Spokesman’s Jim Kershner reported that Dylan had booked the Spokane Arena for a full week, in order to rehearse his show in total seclusion.  The Arena had been picked because it was available for the entire week and it was affordable. The Tour kicked off at the Arena and the Spokane Spokesman’s Heather Lalley was there to assess the new show. She was especially impressed by the debut of some of the Love And Theft  numbers, particularly a chugging Tweedle Dum And Tweedle Dee. His voice also passed muster; “…In recent years, as it has become even more necessary, Dylan has found a way to make the most out of his tired, scratchy, at times nasally and incoherent vocal delivery. Whatever he did, it worked Friday night.”

Chris Nelson was there at Seattles Key Arena to turn in his review for the Seattle Daily News and he was not disappointed, especially placing the older “protest” material into a new context in the wake of September 11th. However “even in the face of these associations, Dylan’s aesthetic victory Saturday was a contemporary one based on his new, material and skills as a performer in 2001.” Reviewing the same show for the Seattle Times, Patrick MacDonald was equally impressed; “…Maybe because it was only the second show in the tour, Dylan sounded even better than he does on the album, his voice clearer and not so raspy. He and the ace band seemed energized and looked as if they were enjoying themselves.”

The third Seattle review appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Bill White. He again couldn’t help but associate current global events with old songs but was equally impressed with the new material; “..In the past, it has taken months for new songs to be successfully worked into the repertoire. Saturday was the second show of this tour, and the Love And Theft material was already well-seasoned. Dylan even met the melodic challenges of Moonlight, a love ballad in the Johnny Mercer tradition, with vocal acumen.”

After the reviews, Nicole Brodeur devoted her column in the Seattle Times to how Dylan’s old songs were frighteningly relevant once again; “…on the eve of Sunday’s retaliatory attacks on Afghanistan, it was both comforting and chilling to see a grizzled Dylan singing his same bellwether, anti-war ballads to a world that hasn’t learnt a damn thing in the 40 years since they were written. Only how to knock down trees, dismantle traditions, and build suburbs and stock portfolios. He sang Masters Of War from an album that came out when I was 2 years old.. I am 40 now, and the words still ring true, still fit  like a seat belt you wear but hope you’ll never use. Times are tense all over again… More and more, we are feeling like a country exposed.  What was sure and secure can no longer be so. Except maybe for the sound of Dylan – gravely, angry, disappointed and still so perfect for the times…”And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” Rain. That would be good. That would be normal. That we could count on to make this feel like home again,” A good article and a timely reminder of just how much things have changed since  September. Would that it were not necessary to have to write it or read it.

Finally, and rounding up the Sept/Oct 2001 press for  this month, there was a four star review of Timeless: A Tribute To Hank Williams by Jeremy Tepper in Guitar World Acoustic that listed amongst the best moments Dylan’s “frisky romp” through I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind.

Next month will again be dominated by Love And Theft and Oct / Nov Tour reviews. I’ll be here, same time, same place. Hope you will, too.

THANKS THIS MONTH TO:  GRAHAM A, JENNS W, BRYAN G, TONY S.


 
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