Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bob Dylan 32: Down In The Groove

Now it seemed he was just being cruel. After the false promise of Knocked Out Loaded—and two postponed release dates, following his starring role in the hideous film Hearts Of FireDown In The Groove offered more of the same. It’s another odd collection of (mostly newish) tracks already a year old, with only a few songs he wrote himself.
The covers wouldn’t be so bad if he actually did them well. “Let’s Stick Together”, for instance, has been done better by lots of other people. “When Did You Leave Heaven?” sports odd synths and plodding drums, and appears to be in three tempos at once. “Sally Sue Brown” is an odd pick out of all the other similar songs about bad girls he could have chosen. Madelyn Quebec’s vocals make one long for Clydie King. (Then again, she was his mother-in-law, so maybe he didn’t have much choice.) “Death Is Not The End” is probably the worst song left off Infidels, and it really didn’t need Full Force on extra vocals. “Had A Dream About You Baby” is a mistake from the Hearts Of Fire debacle, and features the only appearance by Kip Winger on a Dylan album. (“The Usual”, a John Hiatt cover from the same sad soundtrack, would have been a better choice. The film’s other Dylan original, “Night After Night”, deserves to stay buried.)
Co-written with Robert Hunter, “Ugliest Girl In The World” was a target for feminists, and it shouldn’t make Dead fans happy either, but the album’s other Hunter collaboration, “Silvio”, has stayed in the setlists over the years. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, all three chords of it, and at least the live performances don’t include those wacky backing vocals. “Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)” is a great title, but not much else, since the song never really starts. However, a very pleasant take on “Shenandoah” gives the hint that maybe he should stick with folk songs, an idea supported by the even quieter “Rank Strangers To Me”.
If Self Portrait really was designed to make fans ignore him, Down In The Groove seemed determined to finish the job. Yet a close, honest, open-minded listen shows that there’s potential here. Had he stuck with the folky covers, or even the basic combo backing him on “Let’s Stick Together”, he could have found some inspiration. But he didn’t and the question remains: what groove did he mean exactly?

Bob Dylan Down In The Groove (1988)—2


  1. Ninety Miles an Hour Down a Dead End Street is great track, I think. He takes the old hank snow song and puts real tragedy and pathos into it. I love the way it's all hesitation and release, which mirrors the bad relationship, starts and stops, finally letting go and building on the bridge, where the truth is finally told. Great song in my estimation.

  2. m.birchard@sympatico.caSeptember 23, 2009 at 12:24 PM

    I always thought Let's Stick Together was a great song. Bryan Ferry changed the lyric from Let's Stay Together and I heard Dylan giving a nod to Ferry who is clearly a big Dylan fan.

  3. Shendoah is quite good and Rank Strangers To Me is a masterpiece.

    I rather enjoy Let's Stick Together and Death Is Not The End, while the goofy Silvio is entertaining in and of itself. Sounds a lot like much of Together Through Life imho.

    The others are pretty mediocre, though mostly not as horrible as the worst of Knocked Out Loaded, though Ugliest Girl In The World is one of the most awful things he's recorded.

  4. It's very hard to find any excuses for Dylan releasing a (very short) album consisting of six fairly random covers, two collaborations, one five year-old outtake and the worst cut from an embarrassingly mediocre film soundtrack from the previous year, but it would have been a shame to have missed it. 'Sally Sue Brown', 'Shenandoah' and 'Silvio' have (for me at least) all stood up to two decades-worth of repeat listenings, and there are three tracks that would have honoured places in my own Dylan Top 50: 'Death is not the end', a deceptively simple melody and lyric with some of Dylan's most chilling vocals ('When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men...'); 'Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street', a homely morality tale about the perils of adultery that in Dylan's performance sounds like the wisdom of the ages; and the incomparably bleak 'Rank strangers to me', which in two verses gets as close to the 'last outback at the world's end' as 'Ain't talkin'' does in nine minutes. 'Down in the groove' was undoubtedly a very ill-judged release (you can't imagine Springsteen ever making such a self-damaging career move, or having so little thought for the interests of his fans), but it has some truly great performances, from a time immediately before the increasing damage to his voice began to be ever more apparent.

  5. I like The Groove. It's a nice little record, and would've been a perfect little record if "Got Love If You Want It" and Gene Vincent's "Important Words" would've been included.

    You can find finished mixes of those songs from a bootleg called "Hard To Find vol. 4". Andas you might expect, it's pretty hard to find..

    -Delta Dave