Bob's Big Box

Bob's Big Box
As a music lover who just turned 40, I thought it was about time I explored the back catalogue of Bob Dylan, an artist I'd largely ignored previously. Right then...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

28. Knocked Out Loaded (1986)

Creatively adrift in the 1980s yet under pressure from Columbia to put something out to promote on tour, Bob cobbled together Knocked Out Loaded in the spring of '86 from cover versions, co-writes and a few warmed up leftovers from older sessions.  He later described the album as "...all sorts of stuff.  It doesn't really have at theme or a purpose".  The man wasn't kidding.  Literally dozens of names appear on the credits, counting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (with whom he was touring at the time); several guitarists including T-Bone Burnett, Ron Wood and Dave Stewart; over twenty names for "background vocals"; six bassists including James Jamerson Jr.; plus a smattering of familiar old hands like Al Kooper, Steve Douglas and Steve Madaio.  If all this sounds to you like it resulted in a bit of a mess, you'd be bang on.

First up is a cover of Little Junior Parker's Do You Wanna Ramble.  Opening with a long, farty bass note, it finds Dylan in good voice and features some nice R&B riffage and pleasant, low-key backing vocals.  It doesn't really go anywhere, but after the last couple of turkeys in the BobBox it's a surprisingly decent start.  But my goodness, what's up with those DRUMS?  Mixed way too high and with a frankly ridiculous amount of reverb, they sound like a toddler bashing a dustbin lid with a rolling pin (albeit a toddler with great time), ruining what's probably the second best song on the album.

This is immediately followed by the worst song on the album (and that's saying something): a cover of Kris Kristofferson's syrupy paean to Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Jesus, My God They Killed Him.  I've not sought out KK's original, but to his banal lyrics Dylan heaps on reedy brass, horrible echoing vocals and out-of-tune gospel bvs, all wrapped up in tinny, paper-thin production. The vomit on the cake comes from a children's choir; thankfully after a couple of sickly lines they disappear as suddenly and as bafflingly as they arrived.  Press play if you dare:

(It's just occurred to me that those kids sound exactly like Ned Flanders' boys.)

The third cover on Knocked Out Loaded is a reggae-lite version of a traditional gospel hymn called Precious Memories, complete with steel drums.  It's not terrible, but rather boring and dronesome. At this low point in his creativity I can understand why Bob would lean heavily on cover versions, but given the wealth of material out there, the songs he picked are all unremarkable and the execution just terrible.  It feels like he was desperately looking around for inspiration and coming up with nothing, and then just losing interest, thinking "fuck it" and including anything that he thought he could get away with.

Three of the five Dylan originals on KOL were collaborative affairs, no doubt undertaken in the hope of being jolted out of his writer's block.  Got My Mind Made Up is a competent rocker written with Tom Petty.  Musically it's one of the most interesting songs on the album, featuring as it does the Heartbreakers, but it's still very close to the outskirts of Dullsville.  Under Your Spell is another nothing-song, this time co-written with Carole Bayer Sager.  This faintly pleasant track was recorded at Eurythmic Dave Stewart's London studio and Dylan's voice here isn't bad; he at least sounds like he cares about what he's singing, which is more than can be said for much of the rest.

If you've heard anything about Knocked Out Loaded you'll know that the most well-regarded (indeed the only well-regarded) track is Brownsville Girl, a song written with playwright Sam Shepard and originally called New Danville Girl in its first incarnation before being rewritten and re-recorded.  Over 17 verses the narrator's reminiscenses flit between a half-remembered film and a series of better-remembered experiences, a product of Bob's half-remembered songwriting talent. The movie in question is 1950's The Gunfighter starring Gregory Peck, and the song is addressed to the Brownsville girl herself, an old flame.  Dylan speak-sings his way through this long, rambling tale in a conversational style, and there are lyrical gems to be found among the vivid pictures he paints, such as " blows right through me like a ball and chain" and more amusingly "I didn't know whether to duck or run, so I ran".  It's also full of unusually long lines that Bob seems able to fit in with ease, like "Now I know she ain't you but she's here and she's got that dark rhythm in her soul" and "The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter".  Perhaps the most telling in terms of where he was at this point in his career is "Oh if there's an original thought out there, I could use it right now, You know I feel pretty good, but that ain't sayin' much", which ironically, sums up all of Knocked Out Loaded except this unexpectedly great song.  It's a shame that the canvas on which it's painted is inferior; the melody is merely so-so, there's once again a stupid amount of reverb on the drums, and it all gets a bit overwrought on each chorus with the frequently odd, OTT wailing from the Queens of Rhythm combining with screeching brass to replicate the sound of a cross elephant stuck in Vegas nightclub.  Overall Brownsville Girl is a success, but it's not really able to sustain itself over the 11 minute running time.

This leaves the two Dylan-only songwriting efforts, and it's under this harsh spotlight that his writer's block is most plainly evident, as both are cast-offs from Empire Burlesque and both are no more than boring, repetitive, melody-free filler.  Driftin' Too Far from Shore includes a lame 80s guitar break from Ron Wood, and Dylan's vocal on betrayal tale Maybe Someday is so heavily drenched in reverb that it sounds like he recorded it in the loo.  Both suffer from the annoying EB production and those too-loud female backing vocals.

For me, Knocked Out Loaded is cohesive in that it mostly sucks pretty uniformly, and it would seem that on its release, the public would agree, being united in their indifference on both sides of the Atlantic (it reached a high of no. 35 in the UK and no. 53 in Dylan's home country).  As charming as it is, Brownsville Girl isn't enough to save it, and to those considering spending actual money I'd recommend either downloading the track individually, seeking out one of the compilations on which it appears, or even ripping the original New Danville Girl from somewhere like youtube.

This loss of identity that Bob seems to be going through at the moment is frustrating for me as a listener, so I can't imagine how despairing he must have felt at the time.  It's as if the the only thing he knows for sure about Bob Dylan right now is that his real name isn't Bob Dylan.  I can only hope he rediscovers his mojo soon, as there are still over a dozen discs left in the BobBox. Knocked out loaded?  Perhaps.  Down but not out?  I'll have to wait and see.

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Saturday, 22 August 2015

27. Empire Burlesque (1985)

During the 1980s many rock icons of the previous two decades began to incorporate new technologies and musical fashions into their work.  In many cases this led to a pile of steaming turds as these failed to sit well with the artist's trademark sound (see McCartney, the Stones, Beach Boys, Clapton, Rod, Elton - the list goes on and on), but a few others like Springsteen were more successful.  With Empire Burlesque Dylan falls into the first category; where previous album Infidels had begun to explore synthesised instrumentation, EB is drowning in the stuff and it seems to have been used carelessly in a desperate attempt to sound contemporary and mask inferior material.

Also like Infidels, Empire Burlesque was recorded sporadically over a long period of time (in this case about eight months), but this time instead of a small, focused band, Dylan used a variety of different musicians at several different studios.  He produced all of the sessions himself, handing the tapes over to turd-polisher-du-jour Arthur Baker to remix into the final record.  Baker's influence is immediately apparent on opener Tight Connection To My Heart, where I was struck by its clean, brittle 80s sheen.  First recorded during the Infidels sessions as Something's Got a Hold of My Heart, it's not a bad song at all; sunny, breezy and with some great input from guitarist Mick Taylor and drum and bass duo Sly and Robbie.  The harmonica of the original version (which can be heard on the Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3) is replaced here with a synth sound that's somewhere between harmonica and accordion, and is rather unpleasant to my ears, but overall I prefer this do-over, mainly due to the addition of female gospel-style backing vocals which suit the song very well.  Bob's voice is also sounding pretty great, something that at this stage of his career is not a sure thing from one song to next.  Here's the promo video, shot in Toyko, with our hero managing at the end to pull two women at once.  The old goat.

Sadly, after this promising start the quality of songwriting drops off pretty steeply for most of the rest of the album.  Like "Tight Connection", the next two tracks could both be interpreted as being about either the end of a relationship or a cooling of faith.  Seeing the Real You at Last features members of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers plus someone credited as just "Chops" on horns. Unfortunately the song has a weak melody and no real chorus to speak of, and that familiar doof-doof drum sound doesn't help.  Ballad I'll Remember You is utterly unmemorable; despite hearing it at least a dozen times over the past week I couldn't hum it to you now if you had a gun to my head.

More memorable is the twangy rocker Clean Cut Kid, which was first recorded during the Infidels sessions.  I can detect some real harmonica and piano, plus there are some lovely bluesy guitar licks from guest Ron Wood.  This straightforward song about the failure of a Vietnam veteran to adjust back to life on civvy street still has that hollow sound that dates it so well to the mid-80s, but compared to much of EB it feels positively organic, suiting Dylan's ragged vocals much better.  The insipid production of Never Gonna Be the Same Again is less forgiving, showing up a reedy, tuneless croak, backed by even more out of tune yelping from the female trio who don't even seem sure of the words, let alone where to come in.  Knowing Bob's way of working, it's most likely that they weren't afforded the opportunity to prepare, and probably thought that this take was just a run-through.  Even worse - in my opinion at least -  is the so very lame Trust Yourself, which suffers from banal lyrics, a weak melody and a dreadfully repetitious nature, with Jim Keltner's drumming almost entirely removed during the remix and replaced with nasty, clicky-clacky electronic percussion.  After all the preaching of Dylan's religious period it's refreshing to hear him instruct us: "Don't trust me to show you the truth, when the truth may only be ashes and dust".  Since he put much of the responsibility for this album first in the hands of engineers and then Baker, it seems he doesn't have much faith in himself at all right now.

Emotionally Yours is a little better, reminding me of Is Your Love In Vain? from Street-Legal.  It's quite the plodder, and the production is harsh, but the outgoing instrumental is pleasant enough. The worst part is Bob's painful singing, particularly the odd pronunciation in the final chorus of "I will al-ways bee-eee, mo-sha-na-lly yours" as if he's recorded each syllable separately and stuck them together with Sellotape.

On first listen to When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky I thought it a horrible, horrible sounding track.  Not because the production is so of its time, as under other circumstances I absolutely love many of its ingredients - gated reverb on the drums, big dumb bass, histrionic guitar widdling, synth horns, sharp orchestral stabs - but because they are so shoddily, haphazardly thrown together.  It has that huge, propulsive feeling of epic-ness that graced the title sequences of so many 1980s movies, but the whole thing is so clumsily tossed together that it's a messy old racket indeed.  I've come around to it a bit since, but I still prefer the original version recorded with Roy Bittan and Steve Van Zandt (available on the Bootleg Series 1-3) for its major-key E-Street optimism as opposed to the busy, minor-key apocalyptic pop here.

The apocalyptic overtones continue on the funereal march of Something's Burning, Baby, whose biblical references include Judgement Day.  Bob's voice on this is shockingly nasal, and like the previous track there are some highly irritating shadow vocals from Madelyn Quebec.  The overall sound is thin, and the song seems more like a demo than anything else on Empire Burlesque. Add to all this the wailing bvs and what you get is a proper stinker.

Thank goodness then that Dylan required a tenth track to finish off the album.  The hymnal Dark Eyes was written at the eleventh hour and is performed solo with just harmonica and some simple acoustic plucking for accompaniment.  On an earlier album it would have been a fairly minor song, but after what's gone before it stands out as a masterclass in songwriting and stark, understated performance.  Bob's cracked, weary voice doesn't have to compete with loud, clashing background music and he once again sounds like a man in control of what he has to say.

The production style of Empire Burlesque suits Dylan about as well as the designer jacket he's posing in on the album cover.  A voice like his doesn't match the precise, synthetic pop sounds of the era's chart hits, which better suit the clear, strong voices of newer singers such as Phil Oakey, Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox and a thousand other, younger acts of the 1980s.  The scattergun use of technological innovations in post-production also works to the record's detriment; instead of being passed to Baker for remixing I think that it would have benefited from having had a clear-eyed, experienced producer from the start to keep a hand on the tiller. Sadly by the time Baker got his hands on the album it had no direction or strong identity, and coupled with some very weak songwriting what resulted was something half-baked and covered in gaudy sprinkles.  Bob must have been feeling rather uninspired in trying to sound current and fresh; this is the first time in his career where he's seen to be following trends rather than doing his own thing and setting them.

What do you think of Empire Burlesque?  I'd particularly like to hear from you if you're a fan.  Do leave a comment below.

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Friday, 14 August 2015

26. Real Live (1984)

Real Live is the fourth concert album to feature in the BobBox and was recorded on the final three nights of his 1984 European tour.  As well as Mick Taylor on lead guitar, the band also features bassist Greg Sutton, former Face Ian McLagan on keys and Colin Allen (Focus) on drums; a very basic five-piece setup that contrasts sharply with the one on the last live album Bob put out, the flute-ridden and horn-laden At Budokan (which I have come to love so much that I recently picked it up on vinyl at a record sale).

The opening roar of the audience sounds just like a football crowd, so I wasn't surprised to learn that the first track was recorded at Wembley, on Dylan's one and only stadium tour.  The band begin with a chugging version of Highway 61 Revisited which immediately put me in mind of Status Quo, then launch straight into another oldie: yet another rendition of Maggie's Farm, the third time in a row it's been represented on an official live release. It suits the arena-rock setting well, in that it's a fairly meat-and-potatoes rendering of a well known song, but as well as wondering why this one was chosen over others, some may find the excessively gluey vocal quite hard to take.  Bob's delivery too is now close to self-parody, with heavy emphasis on every two or three words.  It's not pretty but I found it compelling, perhaps because this was the first time I'd heard him sounding so like the impersonations that always have me in stitches.  If you too find this amusing you might also enjoy Sutton's comedy bassline  - you know, the one used when the holiday camp compère introduces the house band halfway through the evening's cabaret - but on the other hand you might just consider it ridiculous and lazy.

We leave Wembley Stadium for the next song, which was recorded at Ireland's Slane Castle on the very last night of the tour.  I can't make up my mind about this version of I and I; on first play it sounded quite flattened in comparison to the original Infidels version which of course boasted Sly and Robbie, but on subsequent listens it surprised me by seeming more buoyant.  Since then it's once again become lumpen to my ears, so all I can really say is that it's an okay live version of one of the better songs from an okay album.  See what you think:

At the end Taylor briefly doodles on his guitar, and for a few seconds it sounds like he's going to break into Start Me Up in a perhaps sarcastic nod to his former bandmates' last (ever) top ten hit, but no, we're off to St. James' Park in Newcastle for another Infidels track, a straightforward reading of License to Kill.  This and I and I are two of the better tracks from their parent album, but it's a shame that room couldn't be made for the standout Jokerman.

We're back to Wembley for the next four songs, beginning with a solo acoustic It Ain't Me Babe. The crowd provided my first set of goosebumps, lustily singing the first chorus for Bob and engaging in a positive feedback loop of excitability with his harmonica riffing at the end.  It's absolutely wonderful, and sadly the only real 'moment' offered by Real Live.

Equally well-received is Tangled Up in Blue (also solo acoustic, thankfully!), which here is given a radical re-write that the crowd seem to really go for, although I get the feeling that had Dylan presented them with a version of Humpty Dumpty played on a Bontempi keyboard, as long as he shouted "tangled up in blue!" every couple of minutes they'd have been just as satisfied.  When asked about the new lyrics, Bob has stated in interviews that this is how Tangled should originally have been, but for whatever reason turned out differently.

The full-on Dad Rock version of Masters of War that follows is certainly different, almost unrecognisable, although while it sounds less bitter it doesn't lose the haunting quality of the original.  Like on most of the album Taylor turns in a blistering solo, and he does this again for the last time on Real Live on next track Ballad of a Thin Man.  McLagan adds some great, spooky organ to rival Al Kooper's, although I now kind of miss the dramatic "dah-dah-DAH-dah" of the show-bizzy Budokan version.  I wonder if Dylan, now 43 years old and part of rock's old guard, was aware of the irony in him choosing this song to represent the 1984 tour; I'm not saying he shouldn't have played it - it's an absolute classic, after all - but I think that he now has a lot more in common with Mr Jones than perhaps he'd like to think, twenty-something years into the business.

A nasal but tender Girl from the North Country is received rapturously by the Slane Castle crowd before it's back to Newcastle to finish with the lively boogie of Tombstone Blues featuring some fine honky-tonk piano from McLagan.  Apparently Carlos Santana guests on this, but I wouldn't have known from listening - he must have reigned himself in a bit.

The sound quality on Real Live is muffled, so I was surprised to learn that it was produced by the talented Glyn Johns, and also that it's one of the 14 albums to be specially remastered for the BobBox (by whom, I cannot find out).  My complaint about Mick Taylor being under-represented on Infidels is more than made up for here; his muscular, bluesy licks and solos are all over it, and some might say it makes Real Live sound a bit samey.  It does indeed lack the flair and imagination of the colourful At Budokan, but the three solo acoustic numbers break up the rock stodge somewhat.  Also, it perhaps suffers from the same problem as Bob's other live albums, that of timing, in this case with the recordings being from the end of the tour when the guys are past their peak (see Hard Rain compared to Live 75).  In contrast, some have criticised At Budokan for being recorded at the start of the 1978 World Tour before they'd had time to warm up (but I love it - did I mention this?).

The main issue for me is the odd song selection, considering the wealth of choices available.  Many of those chosen had already appeared on live albums more than once (Maggie's Farm, H61R, Ballad of a Thin Man), and looking at some of the setlists online I'm puzzled as to why these were picked.  I'd have particularly liked to have heard Dylan's duet with Van Morrison on It's All Over Now, Baby Blue from the Wembley date, introduced by Chrissie Hynde.

The song selection is also heavily weighted towards his 60s material; apart from one BOTT song and two from his latest album, everything else comes from no later than 1965.  Because of this, for me it's not by any means an essential album.  Big Dylan fans will find it of interest for the revised Tangled, but other than this Real Live offers nothing new or illuminating, with fairly uninteresting readings of oldies better served elsewhere (except for It Ain't Me Babe, largely thanks to the audience) and not even the best song from his most recent album.  It's interesting that there's nothing at all from the relatively recent 'Christian era'; I suppose he'd been too badly burned by the response to these to risk further alienating his fans, deciding instead to keep this part of his life to himself.

I dare say there's a wealth of boots out there containing material to better represent this tour, but for the casual listener there's little on Real Live to recommend it, and for the average Bob fan I'd advise giving it a listen on Spotify and perhaps downloading the two acoustic Wembley numbers: It Ain't Me Babe and Tangled Up in Blue.

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Friday, 7 August 2015

25. Infidels (1983)

At this stage in the BobBox we're now very much in the 1980s, and the production values of this decade are beginning to make themselves heard.  Infidels was recorded at New York's Power Station studios, with production duties split between former collaborator Mark Knopfler and Dylan himself.  Enlisting the help of Dire Straits keyboardist Alan Clarke, drum and bass legends Sly and Robbie, and former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Bob took more time and effort than usual in the recording, overdubbing and mixing of this, his 22nd studio album, perhaps in an attempt to move with the times and bolster his sales after his last three rather preachy albums hadn't exactly set the charts on fire.

After the opening rattle of Dunbar's drums we're straight into the vocal of Jokerman and it's clear that although the sermonising has disappeared, Jesus is very much still a part of Dylan's world. Over a lilting Caribbean backdrop augmented with atmospheric organ from Clarke and expressive guitar from Knopfler that acts almost as a backup vocal, the lyrics conjure up powerful imagery that references both Christian and Jewish scripture.  Although the overall message eludes me, Jokerman is an incredible piece of work, raising my hopes that Infidels might mark a return towards the potent mixture of vivid surrealism and social commentary of Dylan's past.  These hopes would be rather dashed as the album unfolded, but Jokerman is still one of his best songs to date.  And now that we're firmly into the MTV age there's even a promo video with some fine lip-synching from Bob, which is a bit of a novelty.

Sweetheart Like You is equally atmospheric but is brought down by a slight melody and one particular lyric that might been seen as condescending at best and misogynistic at worst; "You know, a woman like you should be at home, That's where you belong, Watching out for someone who loves you true, Who would never do you wrong".  Apart from this minor mis-step, the words, which appear to represent one side of a barroom conversation, are intriguing with no doubt layers of meaning lying beneath.  I love Dylan's voice here; it's gluey as hell but tender, and the added echo does it no harm.  The song itself is very Dire Straits-y with a fabulous solo from Knopfler playing us out.

After two pleasant but soporific numbers, the up-tempo Neighborhood Bully did a good job of jerking me awake, but not in a good way.  The clumsy, sarcastic defence of Israel that reduces a complex situation to simplistic rhetoric is one thing, but in addition the song is a poor attempt to rock out 80s-style.  The generic guitar riff is tiresome and there's no chorus to break up the eleven - yes ELEVEN - verses, making the four and a half minutes feel neverending.  Taylor turns in some nice bluesy licks, but these are buried so far back in the mix that they may as well not be there.  Like on most of the album Dunbar is relegated to the role of drum machine, the relentless doof-doof-doof seemingly all that was asked of him.  What a missed opportunity and waste of talent.

When I first saw License To Kill on the tracklisting I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be a Gladys Knight cover.  At 3:38 minutes it's the shortest song here, and the time is spent dealing with Man's self destruction, taking in environmental concerns, space travel and war.

"Now they take him and they teach him and they groom him for life,
And they set him on a path where he's bound to get ill,
Then they bury him with stars,
Sell his body like they do used cars"

The melody bears a strong resemblance to Señor and the harmonica solo towards the end adds a welcome dimension, letting the song breathe.  Like Jokerman it exemplifies the way in which the various elements of Bob's new band are able to superbly meld together, although the robotic drumming is still a drawback.  If only Sly had been given license to drum, this could have been an even better track.

Country rocker Man of Peace could have done with a livelier drum track, but it too is stuck with that dull thud.  For me it's the weakest song on Infidels; in terms of song structure and melody we've heard it all before and better.  Some unimaginative harmonica mingles with a Taylor solo to pleasant but generically bluesy effect, along with some twangy picking from Knopfler.  Clarke's organ stabs are so low in the mix that they're barely audible without headphones, and as the longest song here it drags.  The lyrics are more interesting than the music, based on 2 Corinthians 11:5-15 ('Satan transforms himself into an angel of light') and using blues imagery ("..the howling wolf will howl tonight, the king snake will crawl") in order to illustrate Dylan's disillusionment with religious hypocrisy as he sees it.

The aura of dissatisfaction continues with Union Sundown, which questions America's outsourcing of manufacturing, as well as again seeming to condemn space exploration.  The former is a bit rich coming from the man who's outsourced his band membership to three Brits and two Jamaicans, and in terms of the latter, given his paranoid attitude on some songs of late perhaps he was worried about the possibility of future clothing factories on Mars....  The music has a driving Southern rock vibe; in fact it sounds a lot like a Chris Rea record, especially with the heavy vocal echo employed.  After disliking Union Sundown for some time it eventually grew on me pretty well, although again it suffers from a particularly harsh drum sound, and Clydie King's faint backing vocals are another casualty of a poor mix.

Sly is finally allowed to do his thing (well, a bit) on I & I, which begins with a lovely dubby rhythm as he locks in with Robbie's bass.  From the title I was dreading this being an out-and-out reggae track, but over luminous piano and some stunning licks from Knopfler, Bob's internal struggles play out while a strange woman sleeps in his bed.  Like Jokerman it's a high point of the album; introspective, mysterious and just a little spooked.

The sense of self doubt persists into Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight, addressed to a lover.  The reverb on the drums is just too much, and near the end Bob's harmonica and the lead guitar clash badly.  I can't imagine the meticulous Knopfler allowing this to happen; I'm assuming that this was part of the mixing/overdubbing that Dylan continued to do after Mark had left to go on tour, that he later disowned.  Bob himself later admitted that the songs had been much better before this 'tampering'.

And then it's over.  Infidels runs for just 42 minutes - mercifully short, the less charitable might say, until you realise that Dylan's last-minute fiddling meant that several superior songs like the funky Southern rocker Foot of Pride and the outstanding lament Blind Willie McTell were left off. For whatever reason, he wasn't happy with the way they'd turned out and so gave up trying to capture whatever it was that he'd envisioned, but listening to them now on the Bootleg Series Vols. 1-3 it's clear that they'd have bumped up what is essentially a third-tier Dylan album to a higher level.

For this reason Infidels is a frustrating album.  It's also quite a boring one, as the good points you'd associate with having Mark Knopfler at the helm - careful, thoughtful arrangements and recording - are accompanied by the dire traits that also come with him, i.e. a safe, reserved airlessness that impresses but fails to excite.  Even with an ex-Rolling Stone on board it all just feels too clean.  He succeeded in giving the album a strong cohesion, and the contemporary touches are for the most part subtle, fitting in well with Bob's songwriting, which has itself taken a turn for the better by still being informed by his faith but managing to leave the dogma behind. The rather pedestrian AOR sound, coupled with the muted, slightly depressing mood meant that it took many plays before all of the songs stood out for me.  I feel that the talents of Sly and Robbie were much underused, and although I enjoy Knopfler's unique guitar sound, it dominates the record - it could have done with quite a bit more Taylor, who also is also under-employed, or perhaps just buried in the final mixes.

Bob's questionable choices over tracklistings for both this album and the last, plus his difficulty in settling on a producer then overriding their decisions leads me to conclude that his judgement was a bit off at the beginning of the new decade.  I'd been wondering who the infidels of the album title refer to (Christians, Jews, non-believers, his fans?), but as he seems to have lost faith in himself, perhaps the infidel here is in fact Dylan.

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Do you like Infidels?  Hate it?  Let me know in the comments below.