Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bob Dylan 31: Knocked Out Loaded

After playing Farm Aid with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and taking that band on a tour of the Far East, we hoped Bob would capitalize on the momentum and put out an album sure to deliver the same punch and wild mercury of Blonde On Blonde. In fact, based on a Rolling Stone article written by Mikal Gilmore and published shortly before the album’s release, Bob and the Heartbreakers were busy in the studio, recording hours of inspired material, bursting with promise and potential—a view Mr. Gilmore maintains to this day.
Despite all that, Bob apparently hadn’t written any songs worth keeping, and instead cobbled together Knocked Out Loaded, a hodgepodge of recordings from the recent past and present, making for something of a cross between Self Portrait and Dylan. (That’s not meant in a good way.) The only cohesiveness comes from the Queens of Rhythm, consisting of four to six female vocalists, slathered over each track, along with way too much reverb.
The opener “You Wanna Ramble” isn’t that adventurous for R&B. “They Killed Him” is a Kris Kristofferson cover (not a good sign), something of a rewrite of “Abraham, Martin & John”, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it includes a children’s choir. “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore” is a cheesy remix of a synth track left off the previous album, “Precious Memories” is an old hymn that might have been a nice idea, but it’s torpedoed by a steel drum solo, and “Maybe Someday” is another noisy synth track that takes too long to end.
The second side would seem to show some promise, as it consists of three songwriting collaborations with three distinct collaborators, in order: playwright Sam Shepard, rocker Tom Petty, and MOR legend Carole Bayer Sager. At eleven minutes, “Brownsville Girl” is the long-awaited, highly touted epic, but you’re likely to get stuck trying to follow along with the story amidst all the slushy echo and Queens of Rhythm. (We wonder if Gregory Peck himself has ever sat through it.) “Got My Mind Made Up” is the only true Heartbreakers track here, and a letdown; it’s too bad he couldn’t have included “Band Of The Hand”, released earlier that year for the movie of the same name nobody saw. The album finally ends with the comparatively pleasant “Under Your Spell”, but it only succeeds in the face of everything that has gone before.
Ultimately, the effect of the album was summed up by the cover art, with the listener identifying with either the bandito or the guy being strangled. Knocked Out Loaded was product, plain and simple, put out while Bob and the Heartbreakers (and the Queens of Rhythm, naturally) toured America. (Only two of the album’s songs were tried on the tour, and only once each.) It was hard to feel spoiled by such traffic on the shelves when the albums weren’t worth the plastic they were printed on. For all the pre-hype of recordings with the Heartbreakers, this one just plain hurt.

Bob Dylan Knocked Out Loaded (1986)—


  1. I'm a Dylan fanatic but this album sucked. It was partially redeemed by Brownsville Girl and the album's name and cover picture.

  2. Obviously it's not one of his best but side two is fine. The one line dismissal of "Brownsville Girl" is unwarranted; a great song with some excellent lines and a soaring chorus.

  3. Brownsville Girl is, apart from being a great song, one of Dylan's most inspired vocal performances. Listen again to the way he phrases lines like 'I've always been the kind of person...' and 'Way down in Mexico you went out to find a doctor and you never came back'.

  4. The album isn't as bad as you write. It's interesting and fun. The greatest drawback is it's so 34 1/2 minutes he could have easily included another 15 to 20 minutes of music.

  5. This album and the ones you are about to review are not worth the time you will spend doing so.A terrible time to be a Dylan fan. Having said that i do have a soft spot for Brownsville Girl(despite its hideous synths and dreadful production)have to love his delivery in that song "all i remember about it was it starred gregory peck he wore a gun and he was shot in the back".
    Bob would have been better with a dignified silence at this point.Just as he would these days when his never ending tour seems to have finally taken its tole on his voice.Dont get me wrong i have stood by Bob all the way, I think that his performances in 2000 were among his best ever...he was so inspired,expressive and engaged.He should take a rest now and mend whats left of his maimed vocal chords...
    anyway love your blogs keep them coming...peace :)

  6. it's no New Morning, thats fer sure.

  7. i have to say this record is one most played on my player as is time out of mind and infidels.i guess i'm weird. all the best

  8. Yup, we're in a wacky period all right. But it will turn out okay, I promise you that. Thanks for the input folks!

  9. Cheese, vulgarity and cheap sentiment are all part of Dylan's art, have been at least since 'Nashville skyline', and it's part of what makes him a truly great and universal artist. He does it all – 'Three angels' as well as 'Visions of Johanna', 'Peggy Day' as well as 'Nettie Moore'. The kids on 'They killed him' are great, and Dylan's vocal entry as they finish is crooning of the sublimest kind. Cast aside your prejudice and wallow. Me, I'm just looking forward to the Christmas album.

  10. Love "Band of the Hand," though I have it only as a 7-inch single, so it doesn't get played much.

    KOL is an underappreciated mid-career classic that Sony should reissue in a "Naked" configuration after stripping out all the bad drum machines and so on. That goes double for "Empire Burlesque." Track down Stan Lynch - I think he's in Florida and out of the business - to do drum overdubs.

    "Brownsville Girl" is hilarious. "The only thing we knew about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter." Reminds me of some of the imagery, absurdist logic and wordplay in "Black Diamond Bay," "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" and the future "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" - which Petty told me he wrote line for line with Dylan, by the way.

    This tour also did Australia and New Zealand, not just the Far East. Wish I'd seen it in NZ, but I had never really been to a concert before, and was a bit afraid of the whole process.