In The Dark

Grateful Dead

BMG Music, 1987

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


No matter how many times I've listened to an album, when it comes time for me to feature it here on "The Daily Vault," I'll always grab it out of the Pierce Archives (break out the cranberry sauce) and listen to it once more before writing the review.

This morning, I was listening to In The Dark, the Grateful Dead's 1987 return to the studio, while I was driving to work (hey, reviewing doesn't pay the bills)...and as soon as Jerry Garcia's guitar solo kicked in, something funny happened...

It couldn't be... was I crying? Sure enough, something in the solo triggered a whole flood of memories I have associated with this song, and it just hit me the right way. It happened again when the ending chorus of "We will get by... we will survive" faded out.

You want to talk about why the Dead were so popular near the end of their 30-year run? Listen to In The Dark to find out. It might not have been the Dead of the glory years, but they had recaptured a magic long missing.

In one sense, it's a miracle this album was ever made. Garcia had suffered a diabetic coma which left him unable to play the guitar in 1985. After a long time practicing with friend Merl Saunders, Garcia finally regained the skill - but if you listen closely, it rarely seems like Garcia is playing rhythm guitar chords. His rhythm lines more often are note progressions that blend with the melody of the song - not that I'm complaining about this.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It was also a miracle that the Dead returned to the studio - In The Dark was their first studio effort since 1980's Go To Heaven and their first album since two double-album live sets in 1981. A band that had always felt more comfortable on stage than in the studio, In The Dark is lacking a certain polish that other studio albums have. And in a sense, I miss that - you can hear the dual drum work of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann slightly off time on "Black Muddy River." (Of course, this is coming from someone who liked the "Disco Dead" of Shakedown Street fame.)

The surprise find on this one, surprisingly, is available only on the cassette - "My Brother Esau" has achieved kind of a cult reverence, though it is not considered one of the best Bob Weir / John Barlow collaborations. The drum work on this one is incredible, and Weir''s vocal performance is a very good one. As much as I like the CD for its sound quality, I would actually advise picking up the tape (until the day comes that Arista chooses to get smart and add this song to the CD).

In The Dark seems to be best known for three songs, "Touch Of Grey" being one of them. (When I heard that Garcia died in August 1995, as soon as I got home, I grabbed my guitar, put this song on full volume, and played along as I cried.) The other two songs are Weir / Barlow works, "Hell In A Bucket" and "Throwing Stones" (both favorites of the live concerts up to the end). "Hell In A Bucket" is a rocking number featuring a great lead section courtesy of Garcia. "Throwing Stones" is quite enjoyable - even if they did lift a section from "Samson And Delilah."

People who got hooked on the Grateful Dead with this album are sometimes considered nouveau Deadheads - but the performances on this album justified the increase in their fanbase. It also created again a hunger for studio Dead work - which they would indulge in only one more time before Garcia's death. (Memo to Phil Lesh: We're still waiting for the final studio album you and the rest of the band have been promising.)

Even for the non-Deadhead, I would recommend picking up In The Dark, just because it belongs in every respectable rock collection. For those looking to discover the Dead, this is a friendlier road to start with compared to other albums. (I personally would recommend grabbing Mars Hotel, Aoxomoxoa or One From The Vault.) One of the best Dead albums, and one that still moves me ten years after its release.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 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 BMG Music, and is used for informational purposes only.