No Problem, Doomed!...Here's the official version. Appropriately framed as a masterpiece should be.The Rolling Stone Review
By Anthony Decurtis
September 11, 1986It's a bad sign that even the most straightforward description of Bob Dylan's thirty-first album, Knocked Out Loaded, sounds like a parody. I mean, on this LP, Dylan co-writes a song with Carole Bayer Sager ("Under Your Spell"); collaborates with playwright Sam Shepard on an eleven-minute cinematic epic of Americana ("Brownsville Girl"); reworks a country-gospel standard as a lilting reggae ballad ("Precious Memories"); covers tunes by Kris Kristofferson ("They Killed Him") and bluesman Little Junior Parker ("You Wanna Ramble"); teams up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for one number ("Got My Mind Made Up"); and tosses in a couple of what sound to be demos of tunes he wrote all by himself ("Driftin' Too Far from Shore" and "Maybe Someday"). And the guests! Dave Stewart, Ron Wood, Al Kooper and T-Bone Burnett all turn up, accompanied by a gospel chorus and a children's choir.
That this conceptual mess — the album includes no production credit, and for good reason — actually turns out to be likable is a miracle, perhaps the strongest argument Dylan's yet made for the advantages of being born again. Because he evidently didn't take Knocked Out Loaded at all seriously (the title itself, taken from the Carole Bayer Sager tune, is enough indication of that), Dylan sounds fresh and relaxed, singing with a gusto that recalls his best Sixties work.
On "You Wanna Ramble," "Driftin' Too Far from Shore" and "Maybe Someday," Dylan's pickup bands rock with loose-limbed blues-jàm fervor — they sound as if they're having great fun. The steel drums on "Precious Memories" provide one of the album's many small pleasures, as does the haunting, endlessly repeated melody that runs through "They Killed Him." And while the ambitious "Brownsville Girl" wanders all over and never really gets where it wants to go, it's sort of an interesting trip.
Still, Knocked Out Loaded is ultimately a depressing affair, because its slipshod, patchwork nature suggests that Dylan released this LP, not because he had anything in particular to say, but to cash in on his 1986 tour. Even worse, it suggests Dylan's utter lack of artistic direction. Less bad than pointless, Knocked Out Loaded will prove most satisfying to those content to expect the very least from it.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/album ... z234lUveI5
That was then, and this is now. Has much changed? We'll see. You wanna ramble? Yes I do. As of today, it's the only Dylan album I know with an ongoing live website devoted to its analysis (true story!):http://knockedoutloaded.weebly.com/
Pulled from the website posted above, here are few things that were unique about this album:"Knocked Out Loaded" was recorded and overdubbed over the course of several sessions with many different backing musicians rather than with a stable lineup and a focused session (in some cases, there are musicians that, sadly, Dylan would never play or record with ever again, at least to date). There are three cover versions, three co-writes and two solo compositions; this is not an album entirely written by Dylan. There are no production credits on most issues, although it has been fairly accepted that Dylan himself produced the album. A Mexican import release states what we've always assumed and notes 'Got My Mind Made Up' was co-produced by Dylan and co-author Tom Petty. The album is not, on the surface anyway, thematically put together like many of his works. "Knocked Out Loaded" is not a protest record (like his earliest albums), is not about a failed relationship (like "Blood On The Tracks"), is not focused on his Christianity (like "Saved"), is not a bizarre attempt to confuse fans (like "Self Portrait"), is not an attempt to make a stylish album of it's time (like "Empire Burlesque"), is not devoted to whimsy (like "Under The Red Sky"), is not a blues / folk throwback (like "World Gone Wrong"), nor is the album a loose, relaxed effort (like "Down In The Groove"). However, each of these elements are present in "Knocked Out Loaded". These and more. As we go through the songs one by one, and contemplate not only his choices and performances but also the sequencing, a pattern emerges. It is definitely true that this album is not an especially easy one to decipher as Dylan's intentions are not worn on his sleeves here. To make matters even more difficult, Bob Dylan himself has rarely spoken of the album and when he has it would seem he shrugged it off. You wanna Ramble
This album starts off with a sharp turn on route that didn't appear to have a clear trajectory since Shot of Love was put out there...
Other than the drums (which are a little appealing, in a pounding kid sort of way), he puts the momentum of the song into the hands of a capable guitar riff, similar to what I enjoyed about Seeing the Real You at Last
. Here I like Dylan's return to a bit of edge. No wimpy guy looking for a prom date. A guy looking to tango. "Let me see what you got (Bob), shall we have a whoppin' good time?"
It seems Dylan is assured he knows the score and knows what's up:Baby, I know
where you been
Well, I know who you are
And what league you played in
What's less convincing is whether he knows what to do about it. But those heated guitar moments at the end are a pretty good place to start. His voice seems to be in better form than it was on Empire Burlesque.
Again, from the site above, which I am currently falling in love with:
"Knocked Out Loaded" begins with this cover of an older and obscure blues number. Dylan and his band do a very enthusiastic take, and above all, 'You Wanna Ramble' is very entertaining. Bob and crew achieve a raw blues/rockabilly groove, but with a strange touch. This is one very dark song, yet it's belied by the bounciness of the band. Lyrics include "...the night is so empty/ so quiet and still/ for only fifteen hundred dollars/ you can have anybody killed" and "..what happens tomorrow/ is on your head, not mine". From the get-go, this track and performance lays the entire template for "Knocked Out Loaded": life is full of contradictions, sorrows, joys and varying ideals. A major sticking point for listeners is that there are so many different musical styles, and many different lyrical directions to be found on this album. What has been interpreted by many is that Dylan isn't sure where he wants to take this album, that it lacks cohesion, resulting in blues, reggae, gospel, and rock seemingly programmed randomly. I see it much differently, however; Dylan knows *exactly* what he wants to achieve. There is indeed an overarching theme present in "Knocked Out Loaded", but it's not immediately identifiable. They Killed Him
Woah. I didn't see that coming next. I can't imagine anybody did. The saxophone line may have turned people away at the door. I'm a sucker for the synthesized electroballad of the eighties though. And now, 21 years after his classic departure in 1965, when Mr. Dylan decided his thoughts about the world's events would no longer take center stage in his work, he appears to be willing to share a few private thoughts of mourning with the world. The way it's delivered is outlandish and comical. Not lyrics Bob would write (indeed he did not), but he owns them here with a striking attempt at being sincere. (I still think it's an improvement on the original). I nearly went along with it until the helium pitched Children's Choir. Maybe the Dylan fan base is not the target audience here. Maybe he's reaching out to those who were down with We are the World
. So many questions about this one. A Dylan Riddle for sure...Drifting Too Far from Shore
It seems he is. Poor little clean cut kid. Where will he go? I can't follow or groove to this. The drums really bother me. The potential for upsinging is revolting. Ron Woods guitar part offers some saving grace in a few moments. I've read that this is/was one of the most performed from the album. Head scratcher, but I see how he could like it, as he was quite fond of Sylvio. Reading through the lyrics reminds me that some of these songs you don't initially want to hear have some quite snappy lyrics. Precious Memories
Another of Dylan's top three Reggae songs. I think we're both thinking of the same thing here. Dylan may be thinking about life before Blood spilled over the Tracks. I'm thinking about his back catalogue too. This is the fallout that makes Hard Rain
even more dramatic and severe. It's a good thing we have a fun-infused mandolin, bass, and steel drums & guitar with which to cope through all of our losses. I will sing along if you will. Maybe Someday
This seems the most 80s Dylanesque of the album to me. Thoughts and lyrics going 1,000 mph. Kilometers overseas. The rhythm sections & backing vocals racing along with him in syncopated unity. Guitar line is attractive, could have been bolder and brought more forward. Like a good Lou Reed song. Has a very Lou vibe to it. Powerful words to read through, or if you can catch them as he speedshoots them out. Part II to Idiot Wind. Apparently he's forgiven himself, and he's comfortable with self-righteousness again. That's how we like our Positively 4th Street Hero to roll, apparently.Brownsville Girl
You are either in or out. I am in. Since one of my first albums was Greatest Hits Volume III, this song essentially was my first exposure to this period of Dylan. He comes off as extremely self-aware and manipulative of his own songwriting talents. People get a rise out of saying this is a bad thing. Trust yourself
, that's what I say. If it's a trick song, it's a damn good act to follow. The drum and bass line bothers me a little when I really get down to it, but who cares, I'm listening to this story that somehow involves Gregory Peck. I haven't figured it all out yet, so shussssh. I'm listening. I want a lighter and a burbon to sway in the air with one hand up. Great moments achieved by his vocals. Perhaps the best we've gotten since Jokerman. Man it spins nearly out of control in a perfectly designed way in that free verse rap that leads to the first refrain (which is repeated throughout the song, with fancier words). Chew on that for a little while.
another fine quote from the website above:Heard in it's proper context - "Knocked Out Loaded" - 'Brownsville Girl' becomes a living, breathing (and still quasi-mythical) slice of folklore,
a masterpiece that reveals as much about it's characters as it does about America.
and let's push that fade out. a few too many ah hah hahs..Got My Mind Made Up
Yet another musical genre traversed. (Well, touched a bit in You Wanna Ramble).Don't ever try to change me,
I been in this thing too long.
There's nothin' you can say or do
To make me think I'm wrong.
Establishing his personal mission and second side thesis for a wide stemming and intentionally obscured album? Check. As exciting of a bass and drum beat as Tweedles. Yes, okay I'll boogie. My mind is made up. Perhaps the best use of musicians on the album. When I read the lyrics though, I am a little struck by this affair Bob seems to maintain with the public at large. 'You go your way and I'll go mine' has been played a few times over at this point. It's dangerous to play cat and mouse with this Jokerman. Under Your Spell
Bob's getting a handle on this electrosynthesized ballad thing. This is his obligatory self-disclosure song he loves to ice the end of his albums with. The Sugar Baby of 1986 (his lyrics go a lot farther in the future, thank the Lord). A good enough song, but as the final 'oooos' of the backing vocals fade out on the last note, I can't help feeling a little eager for the return of the acoustic/electric axeman with his harp to come along. At least I have a sense on this album that his spirit has been recovered. Somethin’ about you that I can’t shake
Don’t know how much more of this I can take
Baby, I’m under your spell
I was knocked out and loaded in the naked night
When my last dream exploded, I noticed your light
Baby, oh what a story I could tell
It’s been nice seeing you, you read me like a book
If you ever want to reach me, you know where to look
Baby, I’ll be at the same hotel
I’d like to help you but I’m in a bit of a jam
I’ll call you tomorrow if there’s phones where I am
Baby, caught between heaven and hell
But I will be back, I will survive
You’ll never get rid of me as long as you’re alive
Baby, can’t you tell
Well it’s four in the morning by the sound of the birds
I’m starin’ at your picture, I’m hearin’ your words
Baby, they ring in my head like a bell
Everywhere you go it’s enough to break hearts
Someone always gets hurt, a fire always starts
You were too hot to handle, you were breaking every vow
I trusted you baby, you can trust me now
Turn back baby, wipe your eye
Don’t think I’m leaving here without a kiss goodbye
Baby, is there anything left to tell?
I’ll see you later when I’m not so out of my head
Maybe next time I’ll let the dead bury the dead
Baby, what more can I tell?
Well the desert is hot, the mountain is cursed
Pray that I don’t die of thirst
Baby, two feet from the wellNow you’re probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about
What’s probably got you baffled more
Is what this thing here is for
It’s something I learned over in England.
I wonder how much laughter would have been generated if news of the Bette Midler collaboration hit the Dylansphere back in the hey dey (I actually don't know whether it did or not). Here at least, Dylan seems unafraid to open up and come out of his closet, dirty laundry and all. I appreciate this album in the same way that I appreciate Self-Portrait. All in all, having just acquired it and absorbed it, after leaving it off my checklist, thinking my Dylan collection was more perfect with its absence, I'd say it's now my favorite of the "Like it or Else" trilogy hands down. (but I have yet to revisit Down in the Groove this month...)