Recorded: March-Mah 1981
Released: August 12, 1981
I’m glad Dylan expanded his focus beyond explicitly Christian songs. I like the idea of songs that still have an underlying spirituality, even without that explicitness (I hear that about U2 songs, but for me, the spirituality is so implicit as to be irrelevant.). I love a couple of the songs (and outtakes), like a few others, and don’t dislike any. And yet somehow, I can’t really form a strong opinion of the album itself – maybe because it’s another transitional album? Or maybe because of what it could have been?
Maybe I’ll just talk about the songs.
“Every Grain of Sand”. This is a masterpiece. Recently I’ve been asking myself: which of Dylan’s songs would I call perfect? I don’t necessarily mean that these are his best songs, but instead, that there are no “wrong notes”, no lines that grate on me, no instrumental parts I don’t like, no letdown in the melody or vocals. And this is the first song that occurs to me. Moving and comprehensible lyrics. Great vocals. Beautiful melody and arrangement. And who knew that harmonica could deliver the crowning touch to this amazing hymn? 10 out of 10.
“The Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar”. I understand the Christian allusions (Christ is the bridegroom, etc.), but this is a more typical set of Dylan lyrics, where I know there’s something happening here, there are some amazing lines and images, resulting in a compelling package, but: what the devil does it all mean? For me, that’s less satisfying. Still, a great song and rocking performance.
“In the Summertime”. I love the sound of this song. Some religious lines:
And I’m still carrying the gift you gave
It’s a part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved
It’ll be with me unto the grave
And then unto eternity
Again, not sure I can put it all together, but I love listening to this one (and there are some great live versions from 1981, too)
“Shot Of Love”. Pretty great rocker – “Don’t need a shot of heroin to cure my disease”. Sometimes the background vocals are too much for me.
“Lenny Bruce”. Another odd one that I really enjoy listening to. While the lyrics make sense, the song … doesn’t? This paean to Lenny Bruce seems like it comes from nowhere, and the details can get strange: “Never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies’ heads”. Remind me never to ask Dylan for a character reference. I think of this song a bit like “Joey”: Dylan has created an image of a real person that isn’t exactly true to that person. Here it isn’t so much that it’s misleading (unlike “Joey”), it’s that it’s selective and enhanced. I love the solemn hymn sound – I suppose this strikes others as boring or lugubrious, but not me. I find it amusing that this hymn-like arrangement is used for lyrics about a subversive, transgressive, countercultural comic.
“Property of Jesus”. Another one where I really like the sound, and am pretty OK with the lyrics: it’s a finger-pointin’ song at people (maybe his so-called friends) who just don’t get it, who can’t understand what’s happened to the singer. But what do they have: “a heart of stone”.
I don’t dislike any of the rest of the songs: maybe “Dead Man, Dead Man” rises above the others.
The outtakes. Dylan left “Caribbean Wind” and “Angelina” off the album. Now, I’ve read recently that Dylan has a plan for his albums, and if a song doesn’t fit that, he won’t include it no matter how good it is. I can see that in some cases, but why leave these two off? What is the plan for “Shot of Love”? Why wouldn’t “Caribbean Wind” and “Angelina” fit? Would this have meant too many long / epic / wordy songs? I think if he’d have swapped them in for two of he weaker songs (really, pick any two of “Trouble”, “Heart of Mine”, and “Watered Down Love”… ok, maybe even “Dead Man, Dead Man”), the reaction to this album would have been much different. The consensus would have been that there were maybe four classics, several other very strong songs, and maybe one or two that weren’t as good.
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand