Blood On The Tracks
Columbia Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/13/1999
Artists who are predominantly political get unfairly pegged by apathetic couch potatoes and activists as well. The couch potato just wants the artist to shut their piehole(s) and stick to rocking out. And activists get all bent out of shape when their favorite artist looks inward instead of outward.
U2 are prime examples of this. And I'm sure Rage Against The Machine fans are going to get plenty pissed when the band writes a song addressing domestic relationships. Bob Dylan caught flack for going electric and he also caught flack for looking inward in some of his late '60s and early '70s material.
Dylan had plenty to vent by the time Blood On The Tracks was ready to be recorded. Years after his motorcycle accident, Dylan released a couple of albums that didn't register with critics or fans. In 1975, his best years were looking to be far behind him.
That lack of confidence turned into what is arguably his strongest, most listenable album, Blood On The Tracks. The album opens up with one of the most touching songs Dylan ever wrote: "Tangled Up In Blue." With Dylan's lyrics, there cannot be one true analysis of any song, but at the same time, everyone's entitled to their opinion. The story, to me, sounds like three characters who were full into the hippie movements of the '60s facing some harsh realities of the '70s.
The main character in the song is a loveable drifter, still hoping to recapture what made him feel alive some time ago. "All the people I used to know, they're an illusion to me now," Dylan sings. The other two characters are a couple. The female is somewhat torn between her former life and what's in the now. Her guy realized that in order to pay the bills and have some shelter, someone would have to sell out and "deal with slaves."
Dylan isn't morose all of the time. "Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts" is a playful song that sounds way shorter than the eight-minute plus register on your CD player implies. And the entire album has a very listenable quality to it. Dylan has usually been a "lyrics first" kind of musician, but particular care was made on memorable choruses and ear-friendly guitar work.
"Meet Me In The Morning" is a great example of Dylan's attention to the sound of a song as well as the lyrics. Both the percussion and the guitar work follow a simple, folksy pattern. But they do not distract you from hearing Dylan's lyrics.
Perhaps the most recognized track on Blood On The Tracks is the pensive "Shelter From The Storm." In an age where arena rock, punk and disco were about to fight their epic battle for chart supremacy, Dylan's stubbornly prickly track showed that Dylan would probably still be standing once those three fads faded away.
Not many artists today would have been able to make Blood On The Tracks. After three so-so efforts, may artists would have been shopping around for a new label and booking reservations for state fair performances. Fortunately, Dylan was able to hold out until his creative muse returned. The world looked a lot different for Dylan in 1975, but fortunately, Blood On The Tracks is a timeless response to any rebel who is not content with becoming a cultural relic.