Sodding hell, he’s going to do it again. On September 11th this year, Bob Dylan, voice of a generation and murderer of eardrums, will release his nine hundred and sixty third full-length album, and we can all expect another forty minutes of hokey country blues music with words like “I sold my soul to the cobbler’s daughter / she passed me the bedpan and a monkey wrench / Lord knows I try, but I can’t pass water / the good God forgive this almighty stench” etc., in other words, batten down the hatches, lads, we’re in for heavy weather.
And I’m not wrong in worrying: I happen to have stood in line at the record shop when he released Love & Theft (“A sublime blend of vintage big country and post-modern cynicism” – Greil Marcus. “‘Twas molten, yet ’twas not: what of ye?” – Allen Ginsberg. “Their best since Exile on Main Street” – Rolling Stone magazine). Now, for anyone who knows or cares, Love & Theft came out on September 11th, 2001. Having bagged my copy, I took the bus home to find that the twin towers had fallen and the world would henceforth be at war.
This seems fair, more or less. New Bob Dylan record = global catastrophe.
Cause and effect.
Think about it. Dylan’s track record of boneheadedness is unparalleled. Among his contemporaries are such serial boo-boo makers as Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton; even those guys haven’t sunk quite as low quite as often. Okay, Journeyman blew. Press to Play was a flaming turd of a mid-eighties ignominy. But those are, at heart, innocuous failures, the understandable cluelessness of out-of-touch multi-billionaires who’ve surrounded themselves with too many yes-men to know a cock-up when they see one.
That’s okay. That’s really quite alright.
But Dylan’s blowouts? They’re on another scale. They are horrible because they are so senseless; dangerous because, even though I know he’s just being unforgivably callous, I still listen to them for… well, not pleasure, exactly, but some kind of weird voyeuristic kick anyway. Like watching car crash videos on YouTube. Or looking for pictures of Marty Feldman on the internet. Or something like that.
See: Bob Dylan hasn’t been content with the slick geriatric dullness that his colleagues have been happy to hawk. Bob Dylan sucks like the yodelling hoover. Bob Dylan sucks like he means it.
1. The Man in Me. Okay, all things considered, it’s not terrible. And it’s in the Big Lebowski, which makes it all right. But the “la-la-la“s can leave anyone shaken (not exactly a Martha Reeves voice there, hm?). Hints at a capacity for world-class lapses in taste, though at the time nobody would’ve thought it.
2. Lay Lady Lay. Seriously? He invented a new voice just for this song, and I can’t imagine why. What’s more, I don’t know if the bizarre start-stop live version on Hard Rain is better or worse. And I don’t know what that says about either Dylan or me.
3. Skip forth to 1978 and New Pony. There’s love songs, and then there’s this. “Come over here, pony, I wanna climb up one time on you“, he sings, thereby doing away with subtlety, class, and common sense all at one go. I had to swallow a bottle of disinfectant the first time I heard this. You will too. He converted to born-again Christianity shortly afterwards, which was almost inevitable in hindsight. And this is what happened:
4. Man Gave Names to all the Animals. Er, yes. Yes, I suppose Man did.
5. Bob Dylan’s early eighties. This is where we stop dealing in songs, and do entire full-length LPs worth of arch fuckery. He gave us Saved, Shot of Love, and Infidels. In a row. Saved was so bad that Shot of Love was called a “comeback”. Shot of Love was so bad that Infidels was called a “comeback”. These three LPs were followed by Empire Burlesque, which was so bad that nobody called it a “comeback”. Then he took to leather and earrings, and acted in a TV soap.
6. Real Live. I love it, but that’s because I was beaten as a child.
7. Bob Dylan’s late eighties. Empire Burlesque’s disco excesses were in-your-face awful. Down in the Groove is nondescript, uninspired awful. Thank you, Bob Dylan, for showing us the difference between all these different kinds of awful.
8. The Victoria’s Secret advert. So, sometime in the mid-nineties, this guy grows a Krusty the Klown voice and starts recording these amazing albums about loneliness and death. Caught me off guard, he did, when he then chose to cut an ad for women’s undies. Well played, no one expected that.
9. Brought to you by the maker of Tom Thumb’s Blues:
“I was thinkin’ ’bout Alicia Keys, couldn’t keep from crying
When she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line
I’m wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee”
This one’s from Thunder on the Mountain. Alicia Keys, no less. Fucking hell.
10. It Must be Santa. Mark Prindle called it “horrifying and ungodly, but certainly not boring“. That’s right, Bob’s risen above his sorbitrates and his adult nappies, straightened his hair (!!!), and grown a little sleaze-man moustache. And he’s doing happy-clappy Christmas songs. According to Prindle, again, he sounds like he “fell down the chimney, swallowed ten pounds of ash and landed on his throat“, which is about right.
And so, I rest my case, me lud: you all can drool in anticipation all you want. Me, I’m going to drink up a bottle of toilet cleaner and hack my ears off. When I awake, I hope this Lazarus-like event has passed, and I can get on with my life with my Muppets soundtrack CD and my Meccano set: there’s enough misery in the world already. A new Bob Dylan album is just adding insult to injury.