Dylan – The Christian Years
Dylan discovered Religion in 1978, or rather Religion discovered Dylan. He was born a Jew, though not such a strict family, but his songs are littered with Old Testament allusions, especially John Wesley Harding. And now Dylan was a Christian. He couldn’t help his own honesty; he simply had to write songs about it. Slow Train Coming came out in 1979 and upset many of his fans. Though the music and the songs were superb – some of his best – they couldn’t see through the words. The album does feature ‘religious’ songs, but I don’t think they are so obviously so. The record opens with ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ – never mentioning just who. Mark Knopfler was invited to play guitar and his soft notes enlighten the sometimes harsh words. Best songs are ‘I Believe In You’ where Bob’s voice is enthralling, and ‘When He Returns’. But there isn’t a poor song on the record. Many fans hoped that this was a one-off, only to be really disconcerted by his next offering, with it’s lurid sleeve, Saved, was un-apologetically ramming home the Christian Message. And really it fails because of that. It isn’t that the songs are bad, though the backing is heavy and clunky, and re-listening it isn’t that awful. But this is Dylan – and not that bad is faint damming praise indeed. Mind you compared to a few of his mid-eighties albums it at least had some decent songs. ‘Covenant Woman’ is really quite good, as is ‘What Can I Do For You’ – but I never really liked it. The following year, 1981, and Shot of Love appeared; the third of his Christain records – and really it is quite good. Terrible cover again, but the songs a re far more varied and not all are ‘Religious’. A much more varied collection of songs too, different arrangements, less girlie choruses, a bit more like the old Dylan. Best songs – ‘Heart of Mine’, ‘Lenny Bruce is Dead’ and the classic ‘Every Grain of Sand’. I really quite like this record despite the 80’s production.
Two years later and Bob asked Mark Knopfler to produce his next album Infidels. And as the title suggests this was quite a reactionary record, railing against foreigners taking American jobs. A bit of a surprise – but despite some of the sentiments it is really quite a good album, full of anger and rage But even so, some of the pro-Israeli and protectionist US sentiments don’t sit comfortably with the Dylan of old. Best songs – ‘Sweetheart Like You’, ‘Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight’ and the quite superb ‘Jokerman’. But the curse of the Eighties was about to hit…
Before that we have a dire live album Real Live, which was rushed out to fill a marketing gap and is pretty poor. Although on re- listening, maybe it isn’t quite so bad. Dylan, no doubt tired of playing his old songs came up with different arrangements, tempos and even words sometimes. I much prefer the originals – but Dylan considered that each live performance was part of the creative experience too. Anyway, one too many live albums in my mind.