Ben Winch's Album Review
I’ve always distrusted Blood on the Tracks, ever since I first heard it in my late teens. At first I didn’t know why, I just knew it didn’t grab me, not like Bringing it all Back Home or Highway 61 Revisited. Now, 25 years later, I can say it definitively: I just don’t like it. I think it’s overblown, insipid. I find its sacred-cow status baffling. “Tangled Up in Blue” sets the tone. An earworm almost as toxic as the most blatant pop nursery rhymes, its celebrated first verse starts: “Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed / Wondering if she’d changed at all, if her hair was still red.” I mean, huh?! If her hair was RED?!! Am I missing one of Dylan’s fabled “codes” here? Wondering if she was still in the Communist Party, maybe? Cos if there’s nothing more to it that is one dull way to set a scene. Who gives a **** what colour her hair is? To me, it just sounds like lazy rhyming, and it makes me distrust that he really means anything at all, which might be fine except that he delivers the song with such gravitas, as if he’s pouring out his soul. It’s there again in “Simple Twist of Fate”: the overdramatic shouted line—“He wished that he’d gone str-a-a-a-ight”—followed by the too-smooth warbled refrain, which makes a mockery of the shout. (Also “People tell me it’s a sin / To know and feel too much within” sounds like some defensive teenager to me—and critics call this mature?! Pure saccharine.) And by the time of “You’re a Big Girl Now” (patronising title—aside from that I can’t digest this song; it flies right by me without a trace) and “Idiot Wind” (I register the line about Italy—it’s kinda nice—but the rest is just so much garbled over-emoted nonsense to me) I’ve tuned out to the point that it’s all sonic wallpaper. Dude can string words together, granted. Ever heard the saying “more is less” though? That’s why “Girl From the North Country” breaks my heart, whereas “If You See Her Say Hello” seems empty, prosaic. But really, what galls me is the self-mythologising. How the narrator in “Tangled” is a drifter who works on a fishing boat and abandons his car out west and how the stripper in the topless place falls for him. I mean, fine, I accept that it’s not autobiography, but why does the fantasy have to be so macho, such a cliché? (Speaking of which, there are many clichés: “A saxophone someplace far off played”, “She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones”.) “Revolution in the air”? Maybe so Bob, maybe so, but this whole air of sentimental nostalgia for something you only ever imagined in the first place makes me wonder. Reviewers exalt the polished craft of this album, and it certainly has that. Nice acoustic guitar sound too. But you’ve heard of albums (or films, commonly) that are “so bad they’re good”. It could be Blood on the Tracks is so good it’s bad.