Infidels

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1983

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/22/2008

After three albums of what could only be called Christian music, in 1983 Bob Dylan did yet another of the many about-faces in his storied career. Seemingly returning to his Jewish roots, he also marked a return to secular music with his release Infidels – but did he still have the magic to create songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind” or “Like A Rolling Stone” after abandoning that side of his craft?

Well, that depends where you start listening to this disc. If you start at the beginning, one could understand why you would think the answer would be “no.”

The opening track, “Jokerman,” has enough subtleties in it that you could easily think it was a track left over from Dylan’s religious period (“Well, the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy / The law of the jungle and the sea are your only teachers”), and while it’s not terrible, it doesn’t rank among Dylan’s best work, even from the religious period. This is, possibly, as religious as Dylan gets on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Infidels.

The first half of this disc features Dylan getting his feet wet in pop music again, and he doesn’t seem to be quite steady on his feet. “Neighborhood Bully” sounds like something that was a Warren Zevon cast-off, down to the musical and lyrical phrasing of the track and Dylan’s performance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this track just doesn’t do anything spectacular for me. Likewise, “Sweetheart Like You” and “License To Kill” are nothing spectacular, though they’re also not wretched. They’re just… there, which is perhaps the bigger sin that Dylan could have committed.

The scorecard changes to Dylan’s favor, and in a big way, with “Man Of Peace,” quite possibly one of Dylan’s best performances ever (as well as under-rated). The twelve-bar blues fits Dylan perfectly this time around, and he embraces it by pouring his entire being into this track. The energy continues to flow on “Union Sundown,” featuring Dylan’s return to the protest song by lambasting the abuse of foreign workers in the name of our getting lower-cost merchandise. With this simple one-two musical punch, you are left with no doubt that Bob Dylan is back, and back with a vengeance.

It’s for that reason that the final two tracks on Infidels disappoint me that much more. After such a powerful performance, one doesn’t expect to be returned to the mediocre music that makes up the bulk of this disc. “I And I” and “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” aren’t bad tracks, I guess, but coming off the adrenalin rush of “Union Sundown,” I expected much, much more.

If Infidels proved anything, it proved two points. First, it showed that the Dylan of old was still alive and well, writing songs to musically knock one on their behinds in order to get a point across. But it also showed that Dylan was going to need some time to get his musical sea-legs back – something that would prove to be difficult as the music industry itself continued to try and figure out which flavor of the month to follow, with Dylan not quite fitting in neatly with any of them.

Rating: C-

User Rating: A


Comments

I totally agree with your praise of Man of Peace and Union Sundown. However, the two ballads you lament, Sweetheart Like You and Don't Fall Apart on me Tonight, are to me, terrific numbers and the latter ends the record perfectly. And yes, I and I and License to Kill are misfires.








© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.