Street Legal

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1978

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In the teenage years of Bob Dylan's career, it is safe to say that musically he became confused. Like many adolescents, he continued to explore to discover just who he was, having shed the guise of being the folk music standard-bearer in the late '60s.

Street Legal, Dylan's 1978 effort, is often reviled by critics and fans alike. And while it is most definitely a step down from his two previous efforts, it actually has many moments to suggest that Dylan might just be on the right track career-wise, though one would be hard-pressed to say that this is a great, or even a very good, album.

With more of a rock vein than any of his other works (aside maybe from some of his live work with the Rolling Thunder revue), Dylan does his best to be an actual vocalist with this material – and while no one is ever going to compare him to Caruso, he does a surprisingly admirable job. One would, however, have to suggest that he leans too much on his female backing singers at times – almost as if he's trying too hard to obtain mainstream approval for what he is doing now.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are moments of true beauty on Street Legal – tracks like “Is Your Love In Vain?” and “True Love Tends To Forget” are highlights on this set. But for each of those, there is an equal misstep, such as Dylan's attempt to traipse into blues with “New Pony,” or the over drawn-out “No Time To Think.”

And then, there is “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” – quite possibly the most blatant example of how Dylan might have been trying to become an AOR rocker (anyone under the age of 30 may need to look that acronym up). Trying to be both a hit single and a Spanish-tinged ballad at the same time, it fails on both accounts. The problem, though, is determining where the failure lies – and, to be honest, I haven't quite figured that out yet. I just know the track doesn't work – at least, to my ears it doesn't.

There is a danger in listening to Street Legal in today's times that could poison the listener's experience with the album – specifically, knowing that Dylan was about to enter his born-again Christian phase with a trio of albums. Knowing this now, it's easy to possibly let your experience become biased by finding hints of the direction that Dylan was about to take – all the while forgetting that Dylan had always had an undercurrent of religious imagery in some of his songs. Are there such hints present? It does seem so – but one wonders if someone listening in 1978 would have picked up on it. If Dylan was indeed starting on that spiritual transformation at this time, he at least keeps the change subtly hidden, so it's not like the message is hitting the listener over the head with a brick.

Look, it's not that Street Legal is a bad album… but it does pale in comparison to Blood On The Tracks or Desire. I can listen to tracks such as “We Better Talk This Over” and “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)” and find something to enjoy in each of them, but these tracks don't have the staying power that other newer entries in the Dylan catalogue have in my mind. This disc is worth checking out, but it doesn't necessarily single itself out as one the listener will go back to continually.

Rating: C+

User Rating: A-



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