Emotion is the most powerful phenomenon in the world. No matter what you want to think, your emotions are never going to lie. It's a little frightening, really. It is almost as if we were a marionette to our minds. Our emotions pull our strings, and tell us what we think, even if we do not want to accept what we think. We can't accept the way we feel, because we know that we want to feel a certain way, and we can't control it. When we find this out, we break down in anger, not wanting to know that emotion is inevitable. That's how it always is, and that's how it was for Bob Dylan. Robert Allen Zimmerman knows a thing or two about uncontrollable emotions- He's been down, and torn, and he's been high and happy. And he's expressed all of this through music. Only using an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica fastened to a headpiece so he didn't have to switch between the two frantically. Now how the hell do you manage to play a guitar, blow into a harmonica, and sing what's on your mind all in the confines of one song? Well, Bob Dylan gave himself a break for once in 1975, when he recorded what many consider to be his best album- Blood On The Tracks, and used backing musicians, in order for him to concentrate on his most passionate of roles as a musician- lyrics. But I want you to think about that title, Blood On The Tracks. It is a brooding metaphor, one of the more darker sides of Bob Dylan. And that accurately displays the songwriting on this album. Bob Dylan shows his more bleaker side on this album. The songs are down, upsetting, regretful and disheartening; Full of heartbreak and fragments of dark memories. But I, along with many other people, can relate to Blood On The Tracks, and this returns to what I said about the inescapable fate of emotion. It is not an enigma, it is fact, and as scary as it sounds, Blood On The Tracks was made to show us how music can effect our emotions.
Bob Dylan has done a lot of work that toy with different themes and feelings. He's gone from cynical and attacking the government, to poetic. And Blood On The Tracks illustrates his poetic ability. When a songwriter that plays an instruments temporarily departs from his responsibilities as an instrumentalist in pursuit for writing lyrics, one can only foreshadow that the results will be much more personal and poetic than when they have to focus on all aspects of a song. Bob Dylan's lyrics have always been poetic and moving, but Blood On The Tracks is a landmark for him as a lyricist. I have never connected with an album on such a personal level before, on any basis. Every word spoken from Bob Dylan's mouth is moving enough to change what you are thinking about. His lyrics are darker than on previous albums, exchanging cynicism and contempt for melancholy and gloom. It is not a happy album, by any means, yet lures you in with a feeling of warmth. It is rather ironic that it feels cordial, because the subject matters are more than dismal. While previous Dylan albums are freewheeling and mocking, Blood On The Tracks touches up on how Dylan can get despondent. Mockery becomes heartbreak, and nihilism becomes lamentation. And if there is one album to listen to when you feel upset, Blood On The Tracks becomes your best friend, because it does not matter why you are distraught, the album seems to speak to you. It does not matter if you like Bob Dylan's music or not, whether or not you can even stand Blood On The Tracks, you will connect to it, lyrically. And that's where it derives all of its power from- Its ability to move you, whether or not you enjoy the music, proving that emotion is just as, if not, more important than talent itself.
Musically, even if it is not Bob Dylan playing all the tracks of guitar, Blood On The Tracks features what could be considered some of Bob Dylan's finest moments. The guitar playing is nonchalant and creative, quietly painting flourishes of color into a dark lyrical image. Bob's harmonica playing is not harsh and bluesy on Blood On The Tracks. Instead he uses the harmonica as an accentuating detail, only adding a note or two in order to brighten the song up. That is what makes Blood On The Tracks such a masterpiece- Dylan's understanding of simplicity, and use of it, rather than cramming every note into every single measure, is a wonder in and of itself. But simplicity is not always as easy as it sounds. But to Bob Dylan, it is philosophical. But the delicate alterations made on the album are wonderful additions, and cover new ground from other Dylan works. There are attractive compositions and arrangements, where beauty lies in the chordal structures rather than how it is presented. From a Spanish arrangement of ascending acoustic guitars, to a harmonizing keyboard and extended song lengths where narratives of blood, sweat and tears turn into tales of suicide and addiction, or chasing your true love, even if only a mere brief meeting changed your direction of love. Dylan's voice is gravelly and coarse, a trajectory of southern morale and propriety, only projecting what he thinks and feels. And the album is his artwork, a colored canvas with touches of simplicity and sensibility, a stimulant that not a lot of other albums seem to capture. This album, unlike other albums that have a 'classic' label, is real. And god damn it, it feels good.
As much as I love this album, and as much as I would love to give this album to everyone I know for free, because it is so good, it is not void of imperfection. Not everything about the album is pleasant and easy to listen to. I'd hate to admit it, but in fact, these things could turn off some listeners before they even listen to the first song. The overall mood of the album is very dark and murky, being written after Dylan separated from his wife, and isn't the best feeling when you are terribly sad, because this really won't make you feel any better about yourself. Another factor about the album that can be a big turnoff to many listeners is the length of the songs. Now I can listen to 23 minute songs and not get bored, but I can see how brevity can be appealing to listeners. The song lengths on here range from a succinct two minutes, to a winding tale that lasts well over eight minutes. And I can comprehend that eight minutes of easy, folksy acoustic guitar strumming and metaphorical lyrics from Bob Dylan's voice isn't the best thing to listen to for 8 minutes. But in the end, there is much more positive than negative about Blood On The Tracks, and if you rack up the nerve to listen to it in its entirety, it becomes easy to see how this album can be considered a classic, regardless of your opinions on the music.
So Blood On The Tracks does not win the award for the most talented musicianship of the past century, nor has it sold as many album copies as Freewheelin' or The Times They Are A Changin'. But it does not lack in any area. Bob Dylan's lyrics are clairvoyant, and the songwriting on Blood On The Tracks is nothing but superb. It is a rare event that I can listen to an album, and think of every song as equally brilliant as the last one. I have never listened to an album for three hours in one sitting, either, but that's how powerful it is. My liking of the album may seem quite exaggerated and overtly present, but at least I can admit that the most awesome album ever is not flawless. Case in point, it is not for everyone. But for those of you who like Bob Dylan, this is probably the best you can do. Blood On The Tracks is not an album that lashes out at you with a force intense enough to change your point of view on life, but will certainly move you. An idea so simplistic as grief can turn into a much more multifaceted work of art, while a painting in grayscale is splashed upon with touches of sonic color, all of which is rudimentary, yet atypical enough to change your mind about Bob Dylan's music. Emotion can take its toll on you, but emotion also acts impulsively. An example of this is Blood On The Tracks itself- an album so dreary and dark, can lift you up, and make you feel good about your surroundings. And resorting back to the power of emotion, I'd like to pose a rhetorical question? Isn't the power of your emotions the ability to be happy after listening to sad music? If you listened, you would know.