CK Retro Review: Knocked Out Loaded by Bob DylanPosted: July 3, 2013
This is where it starts to get a little grim. 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded was an appropriate enough album title, since Bob Dylan seemed to be anesthetized on many of the recordings. The album has one undisputed classic, a few other fair-to-middling originals, and some goofy cover songs. At least the album cover was pretty cool. Here is a song-by-song review.
8. “They Killed Him”- Why Dylan picked one of buddy Kris Kristofferson’s most maudlin songs to cover is baffling enough, but the version he cut, complete with children’s choir to really drive the manipulative qualities of the lyrics home, is completely wackadoo.
7. “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore”- The lyrics are bad and the synthesizers are worse. If Bob was trying to mimic the interstitial music of some bad 80’s sitcom, mission accomplished. Otherwise, this one is a complete mess.
6. “Precious Memories”- Bob must have wanted to imagine the island breezes at his back when he added a steel drum “riddim” to this country-gospel oldie. Yawn.
5. “You Wanna Ramble”- The song itself is OK, and T. Bone Burnett plays a nice lead guitar, but the sound of the recording is pretty lousy. It’s not too objectionable, as some of the others on the album are, but it’s also easy to forget the second it’s over.
4. “Under Your Spell”- To paraphrase one of co-songwriter Carole Bayer Sager’s other hits, we don’t quite have to cry out loud upon hearing this intriguing oddity of a closing ballad. There’s nothing really that warm about the song, which is surprising considering Bayer Sager’s rep for sappy slow stuff. Lines like “I’ll call you tomorrow if there’s phones where I am” even flash a little black humor. Definitely weird, but at least it’s not dull.
3. “Got My Mind Made Up”- People forget that Dylan and Tom Petty wrote together before the Traveling Wilburys united. This one and Petty’s minor hit “Jammin’ Me” sound like dry runs for that supergroup, full of lyrical non-sequiturs that nonetheless end up being slyly catchy. The Heartbreakers lock onto a pretty solid Bo Diddley groove to give this one a little added punch.
2. “Maybe Someday”- It could have been ever better were it not for the intrusive female backing vocals. Still, there’s more than a little whiff of “Like A Rolling Stone” in the lyrics, as Bob calmly dresses down a former lover who made choices that pulled her away from him. The narrator is no saint himself and owns up to the role he played in the separation, making it akin to the Blood On The Tracks material. Even if only for the echoes of past glories that it stirs, “Maybe Someday” is an underrated gem.
1. “Brownsville Girl”- If Knocked Out Loaded had to exist only to give us this song, it was worth putting up with all the other debacles on the album. Written with Sam Shepard, it is a mind-bending accomplishment, a meditation on identity and reality and Gregory Peck and corrupt swap meets and pretty much everything else under the merciless sun. Dylan’s singing is so magnificent here that you almost take it for granted; how he navigates all those wordy lines and hits the right accents in them for maximum impact is beyond comprehension. The writing is special too, seemingly rambling to nowhere until an aphorism springs up out of the dust that seems to answer all the mysteries of the universe. We’re selfish, Bob, which is why we got on you in the 80’s. When you could do a song like “Brownsville Girl,” it’s human nature that we would want something like it every single time.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book, Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available at all major book-selling sites.)