CK Retro Review: World Gone Wrong by Bob DylanPosted: July 15, 2013
Never has an album been so accurately titled as World Gone Wrong. Bob Dylan’s second straight excavation of folk, blues, and traditional songs sticks mostly to downbeat tales of death and heartbreak. Dylan renders it all with the weary wisdom of someone who understands that though these songs contain outsized situations, they end up accurately and strikingly portraying the dark hearts and wayward souls that dwell within us all and are waiting for circumstances to unearth them. Here is a song-by-song review.
10. “Ragged & Dirty”- It’s the one song on this fabulous collection that feels inessential, if only because Dylan’s understated vocal, a style which works often on the album, leaves this track feeling a little limp.
9. “Jack-A-Roe”- The one song on the collection that ends happily might have felt out of place had not Bob given it the kind of intensity he summons here. The old cross-dressing ploy at the heart of the plot could have been done with a wink, but Dylan understands that would have been the kiss of death for the song, so he doesn’t even bat an eye at it.
8. “Broke Down Engine”- Dylan does Blind Willie McTell proud with a spirited take of a blues song that has some nifty hidden layers hidden beneath its surface lament. The narrator invokes a higher power but only uses his prayers for his own benefit in his attempts to reclaim his mojo and win back his lost love. There is a lot of innuendo in the lyrics, but, again, Bob just barrels right through it all and respects that his audience will get it without him having to spell it out for them. In that manner, his method of interpreting songs is akin to his method of writing them.
7. “Blood In My Eyes”- Dylan has a knack for delivering a song in such a way that it opens up new meanings to it that might not have even been apparent when it was written. Instead of playing up the orneriness or righteous frustration of the narrator here, he sings as though he is bereft of even the will to put up his feeble arguments. It makes it sound like this single broken promise is emblematic of a greater malaise that afflicts us all.
6. “Stack-A-Lee”- This one has been sung every way possible by all manner of singers, the reason being that the subtexts it contains are practically infinite. Dylan knows this and knows that if he plays it as straight as possible, those subtexts will emerge all on their own. So let it be about that Stetson hat, says Bob, and the rest will fall into place. And it does.
5. “Love Henry”- Here is another example of a song that can sound silly in lesser hands, what with the parrot entering the picture at song’s end. (Maybe this is where Bob got the idea for the parrot in “Simple Twist Of Fate.”) He even handles the overly formal, arcane language with ease (“She murdered mortal he,” being just one awkward example.) Somehow it all comes together, and when Bob sings in the voice of that little bird at the end, it feels like the only sane way it could have concluded.
4. “World Gone Wrong”- The title phrase is simple and potent, and Dylan uses that to his advantage by taking a simple matter of a broken heart and turning it into something representative of much more. You can easily draw a line from the plainspoken yet wired lyrics of this song to the songs that Bob would write on his next several albums. That little guitar lick that punctuates each verse is integral to the song’s success; it’s the aural equivalent of the narrator shrugging his shoulders and moving on to his next moment of misery.
3. “Two Soldiers”- Dylan would go on to write his own song about the Civil War (“’Cross The Green Mountain”) which, although a tad more existential, carries the same creeping dread as “Two Soldiers.” This is a beautifully sad song, and the unknown writer could be accused of contrivance and manipulation but for the fact that the horrible conflict between North and South likely presented countless situations such as this.
2. “Lone Pilgrim”- This lovely closing track has all the nuance and compassion of the very best of Dylan’s own spiritual work, and his performance of it is indelibly touching. In a way, you can read it as one final word on the Born Again period. By the end of the song, it’s hard to tell where the Lone Pilgrim ends and the visitor to his tomb begins, so interwoven are they in the completeness of their faith. With his mesmerizing vocal, Bob inserts himself into that picture as well.
1. “Delia”- Like “Stack A Lee,” it’s been translated and re-translated in so many ways that its essence can easily be lost. Dylan locates that essence in the refrain of “All the friends I ever had are gone.” Every time he sings it, it seems more desolate, and it gives stakes and consequences to the machinations and misdeeds of the song’s characters. It’s more than a case of love gone wrong; it is indeed a case of a world gone wrong, making it the perfect centerpiece of this triumph of an album.
(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. It’s available now at all major online booksellers, and will be in bookstores tomorrow.)