After writing glowing reviews of two of my favorite Bob Dylan albums, Time Out of Mind
and Live 1966
, I thought it would be only fair to review one of his weakest efforts, 1986's Knocked Out Loaded
. By my count, Dylan released four good albums in the 80s, but it is still hard to deny that it was his worst decade by far. He was tired, he had lost his muse and, worst of all, he seemed convinced that every song he wrote needed five or six backup singers.
As I stated earlier, Knocked Out Loaded
is one of Dylan's weaker albums. Listening to it again, it may even be the worst of his entire recording career, which began in 1962 and continues to this day. While I'll get to the numerous reasons why this album is so dreadful, though, I'd like to start with the two bright spots: "Under Your Spell" and the eleven-minute "Brownsville Girl." Now, I'll be the first to admit that calling "Under Your Spell" a bright spot might be a bit of a stretch, but when you compare it to the rest of the album, it isn't that bad at all. Dylan's delivery makes it seem like he's actually interested in what he's doing, the backup vocals actually add a little something to the overall product and the production, while dated, is fairly simple, leaving the band plenty of room to breathe. "Brownsville Girl," however, is undeniably good. Much like the other extra-long tracks Dylan has recorded throughout his career (the eleven-minute "Desolation Row," the sixteen-minute "Highlands"), there is no drawn-out introduction here, no minute of silence or anything of that nature. The song's length is simply due to the number of verses, which Dylan talk-sings with echo effects altering his voice. The chorus of "Brownsville Girl" is short and sweet, with the always-present backup singers joining Dylan for a moment or two, but then it's over, back to another verse. Overall, its a powerful song, a song enhanced by its length. But these two songs aren't enough to save Knocked out Loaded
from being a disaster.
Now, we move on to the bad things. And we'll start with the cover art. While most Dylan album covers just feature a picture of Bob, usually just sitting around and looking at the camera in no exact pose, Knocked Out Loaded
's cover is a ridiculous picture of a women about to kill some dude with a ceramic bowl. The booklet says it's a picture by Charles Sappington ... and I don't know who this Sappington guy is, but the one thing I've seen by him sucks. Another awful thing about Knocked Out Loaded
is that it wastes legitimate talent. Not only is Bob wasting his own talent (that much is fairly obvious, isn't it?), but he's also wasting the efforts of such guest stars as Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, T-Bone Burnett, Ron Wood and Al Kooper. The chances of those guys, and Dylan, all getting together and recording an album and it not
being something great are slim, friends, but they managed to do it here.
Yet another problem with Knocked Out Loaded
is the track selection. Like I've said, there are two solid songs here, but the other six are absolutely terrible. One of these miserable tracks, "They Killed Him," is a Kris Kristofferson cover! Hey, Bob, what are you doing covering a dude that likely worships the ground you walk on? Shouldn't he
be covering you
? "They Killed Him" is a real pile of crap, too, with some of the lamest lyrics you'll ever hear. How bad? It's a song about Ghandi, Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers and how sad it is they were all killed, that's
how bad. Oh, and to top it all off, one of the verses is handled by a children's choir. I'm listening to it as I type this sentence and, let me tell you, it is really making me want to jump off of my deck. "Maybe Someday" is just as bad, featuring both a lame saxophone part and
a lame trumpet part. And then there's "Got My Mind Made Up," a track Dylan co-wrote with Petty. It actually starts out almost decent, with a decent acoustic guitar opening things up, but then Dylan starts to howl the simple lyrics and things collapse right away. Did he just say he needs to go to Libya? What are you singing about, Bob!? And how did you and Tom both put your minds together and produce such crap?
It really is a good thing that "Brownsville Girl" is such a success, and that "Under Your Spell" is at least half-way decent, or we'd be looking at a 1/5 for sure. But those two songs help it earn a solid 2. I'm feeling generous right now, though, so it's possible the whole thing deserves a 1.5 and I just don't have the balls to give an album by such a legend such a low score. Either way, though, avoid Knocked Out Loaded
and avoid it all you can. If you want to buy it for the two songs that aren't awful, go for it, you can probably find it dirt cheap at a used CD store. Just don't listen to the rest of the album with any sort of expectations. You'll be disappointed in a major way.