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Thursday, June 08, 2006

BOB DYLAN Infidels

Columbia QC 38819 (1983)

Musically, the eighties were an up-and-down kind of decade, especially for established artists like Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan, who were faced with the choice of either updating their sound for a youthful audience or staying the course. As a result, many of their albums from this period went underappreciated for one reason or another; fortunately, a few have resurfaced in people's memories as underrated gems that time forgot. Bob Dylan's Infidels is one such album.

Infidels was recorded before the eighties got going in full swing, and is a tight yet relaxed collection of Dylan tunes, thanks largely to the famed dub rhythm section of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. They prove themselves able to adapt to any style on the album, be it the gentle reggae lilt of "Jokerman", the hard-driving rock of "Neighborhood Bully", or ballads such as "License to Kill" and "Sweetheart Like You", which was a minor radio hit for Dylan. Keyboardist Alan Clark gives solid support throughout the album (his Hammond B-3 organ provides stirring swells in all the right places), as do guitarists Mick Taylor (formaerly of the Rolling Stones) and Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits). Knopfler co-produced the album with Dylan, resulting in a warm, gimmick-free sound not unlike that of Dire Straits' early albums.

Lyrically, Dylan is in full "preacher" mode for most of the album, whether warning us that sometimes Satan comes as a "Man of Peace" or declaiming "false-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin" in "Jokerman". Love it or hate it, Dylan's judgmental fire works extremely well with the mostly laid-back musical settings, giving them an intensity that may never have materialised with a more forgiving lyricist at the helm. In turn, the music softens the edge of the words (but, thankfully, only a little).

Here's the video for "Jokerman", one of the better visual efforts made by a sixties icon during the video-crazy eighties. Only Dylan's Miami Vice jacket (mostly obscured) gives the decade away!


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