CK Retro Review: InfidelsPosted: June 28, 2013
It may be the one Bob Dylan album that’s more known for what’s not on it than for what is. Had Dylan included “Blind Willie McTell” and “Foot Of Pride” on 1983’s Infidels, it likely would enjoy a reputation much better than the muted one it currently holds. Even without those two songs that were recorded during the album’s sessions but were left on the cutting-room floor, the album is still an interesting mix of blunt excoriations and vague meditations with a modern sound at times too slick and at times sneakily soulful. Here is a song-by-song review.
8. “Union Sundown”- When Dylan is at his best, he brings insight to topical material that can’t be gleaned from just a cursory read of the morning paper. Alas, he comes off like a barroom loudmouth here, making obvious points about American jobs heading overseas. He gets points, however, for rhyming “El Salvador” with “dinosaur.”
7. “Neighborhood Bully”- As always, my barometer when judging Dylan’s topical songs isn’t the opinion he’s offering but rather how well he offers it. “Neighborhood Bully” makes its points about Israel’s isolation within the community of the world well enough, but it feels like it makes too many of them, so that one can become numb to it all by the end. The music chugs along all right, but with no more invention than a Dire Straits deep album cut.
6. “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight”- The production is a shade or two too glossy, Dylan seems at times to be a singing a different song from what the band is playing, and the last verse is just plain bizarre. Yet when Bob goes all soulful on us, it’s always a bit hard to resist, especially when he’s doing it to convince some reticent girl to his point of view. It certainly gave folks a little preview of what was to come on Empire Burlesque.
5. “Man Of Peace”- This one is interesting in how it almost imperceptibly picks up steam, so what seems like a clever enough blues rant becomes practically epic in the coda as Mick Taylor and Mark Knopfler blast away with Dylan’s harmonica sandwiched between. The central conceit is as old as the whole wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing proverb, but Bob gets off some excellent one-liners, such as when he says that the sneaky main character “can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull.” It’s not a classic by any stretch, but it’s a good bit of fun.
4. “I And I”- Dylan was a man trapped in this song: Between the past and present, between Christianity and Rastafarianism, between an unforgiving exterior world and a warm bed with a strange woman it, between himself and, well, himself. That’s a whole lot to try and convey in the span of a song, and “I And I” is indeed a bit elusive lyrically. It’s a good thing then that the music on this track is so subtly powerful, with Knopfler’s moody licks worming through the vast open spaces of the arrangement.
3. “Jokerman”- Those of you who read my original Top 200 list know that I excluded “Jokerman,” but the outpouring of support it received from commenters caused me to reconsider. I still don’t think the music quite rises to the stakes raised by the lyrics, and that may be why I gave those lyrics short shrift. But, on second thought, “Jokerman” turns out to be one of Dylan’s most fully-realized character sketches, a vivid portrait of a fellow with the world at his feet and a void within his heart. Spectacular imagery throughout, and Bob sings it all deftly. I still wish it had been placed in a more animated musical setting, but, hey, I admit I underrated this sucker originally.
2. “Sweetheart Like You”- There’s a serene soulfulness to this track, amped up by the lyrical lines that Taylor lays down on lead guitar. Dylan got ripped by some who claimed he was being sexist, but the lines about “Sweetheart” belonging in the home seem like the narrator’s way of saying that his own affection, along with the whole seedy world he inhabits, isn’t worthy of her, sort of like the way Bob would warn off “Sugar Baby” on “Love And Theft” a few years down the line. In my book, this one deserves a second listen from those who might have written it off.
1. “License To Kill”- Robbie Shakespeare’s bass work on this song is outstanding, conjuring up the understated menace that drips off Dylan’s lyrics. Of all the potshots Bob takes at space travel on the album, the catchiest one comes here: “Man has invented his doom/First step was touching the moon.” As ignorant machismo runs rampant and violent over the world, a lone woman watches it all, her prophecies of doom remaining unspoken because no one would listen anyway. Chilling stuff expertly rendered.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the Amazon link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, also available on all major book-selling sites.)