Glowing "Empire Burlesque" review

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by JRM, Jan 30, 2014.

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  1. JRM

    JRM Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Mile High City
    I've been relistening to Empire Burlesque recently and really think it was one of Dylan's more underrated albums. I was curious what contemporary reviews said at the time, and came across this very positive review from the Boston Globe.

    As much as I really like EB, I think "breathtaking" and "top notch" are further than I would go in accolades! I also think Infidels is stronger, but clearly this reviewer (Steve Morse) does not.

    So..curious...anyone else think Empire Burlesque was Dylan's best album in years? Or simply very underrated? Has your impression of this album improved over time, or the opposite?

    ###

    Boston Globe
    June 7, 1985

    RECORD REVIEW

    "Dylan Returns Without The Mask"

    When the clerk in a Harvard Square record store saw me snapping up the new Bob Dylan album, he felt compelled to share his opinion. "You won't believe this record," he said, nodding his head sagely. "Dylan is really back. It is the best thing he's done in years."

    And so it is.

    No ifs, ands or buts about it. Dylan's "Empire Burlesque" is solid proof that the '60s prophet has shed his surly remoteness of recent years and rejoined the real world.

    Gone is the pompous, born-again Christian dogma that hampered "Slow Train Coming" (1979) and "Saved" (1980). Gone, too, is the born-again Zionist posture of "Infidels" (1983), which had many critics, notably Robert Christgau in the Village Voice, branding him a reactionary windbag.

    The 1985 Dylan has dropped his masks and owned up to his vulnerability. "Empire Burlesque," while not just filled with his best rock 'n' roll in years, also shines with exquisitely tender lyrics about love, self-doubt, beauty, dreams, emotional transitions and the sheer, exultant will to survive.

    Rather than stand in a pulpit and preach down to his listeners, Dylan is back on the streets at peer-group level. In the aptly named, "Trust Yourself," which is a long way from the abusive hectoring of "Gotta Serve Somebody" on his "Slow Train Coming" LP, he sings:

    Don't trust me to show you the truth

    When the truth may only be ashes and dust

    If you want somebody to trust, trust yourself.

    For too long an embarrassing tangent to the music scene, Dylan shows he can still write with poetic insight and soul. But while his lyrics will again be thoroughly dissected for hidden meanings and messages, it is the grit of his music which may finally put him back on the charts.

    "Empire Burlesque," the first album to be produced by Dylan himself, abounds with elegant but forceful R & B, featuring a Who's Who of backup players. Substantial contributions come from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers - guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein, who lend an edgy, contemporary flair. Then there's the Rolling Stones' Ron Wood, ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor (who backed Dylan on his European tour last year and played on the underrated but sloppy "Real Live" LP that came from it), and the crack Jamaican rhythm section of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar.

    Like John Fogerty, whose "Centerfield" album has been the comeback story of the year so far, Dylan doesn't radically alter his own trademark style other than to update tastefully. So above a core of sultry R & B, gospel choruses and twisting, cawing vocals that define his best work, he adds occasional electronic drums and congas for a modern feel. The most vivid example is "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky," a biting song about a hemmed-in lover seeking his freedom.

    Trying to get a handle on love is the essential theme of the album. The newly self-trusting Dylan, at 44, seems ready to agree with Billy Joel's lyric about romance that "sooner or later you sleep in your own bed." Maybe he's too cerebral for his own good, but Dylan's nitpicking about love is another sign he's caught up to the '80s. As he sings in "Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)":

    You're the one I've been looking for

    You're the one that's got the key.

    But I can't figure out whether I'm too good for you

    Or you're too good for me.

    This song opens the album, setting the stage for the intimate soul- searching ahead. Dylan plays the romantic cynic in the horn- powered "Seeing the Real You at Last" ("I'm hungry and I'm irritable/ And I'm tired of this bag of tricks"), but his faith in love is transcendently restored in the ballad, "I'll Remember You":

    I'll remember you

    When the wind blows through the piney wood

    It was you who came right through

    It was you who understood."

    These songs on side one are simply breathtaking. The nuances of the music and the stately construction of the words burn into the heart. Then comes the only openly political song on the album, "Clean Cut Kid," a bluesy stomp that at first seems out of place but later holds up on its own. A Vietnam memoir, it follows a youth from his churchgoing, Boy-Scouting childhood, to the napalm world of Vietnam and the inevitable conclusion: "He was a clean- cut kid/But they made a killer out of him."

    The album's second side doesn't match the intensity of the first, but still amounts to top-notch Dylan. In "Emotionally Yours," he again treads the path of the resolute lover. That same path is clung to in "Something's Burning, Baby," where he says, "I believe in the impossible, you know that I do."

    The piece de resistance, "Dark Eyes," comes last. Conjuring campfires and twilight tristesse, it is the first unaccompanied folk song he's done since "Wedding Song" from 1974's "Planet Waves" LP. It serves as almost a summary of the album, signaling a recommitment to love and hope.

    These issues are hardly new, but it's wonderful to see Dylan grappling with them again without his mask of arrogance.

    -Steve Morse
     
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  2. Matty

    Matty Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I think it was Dylan's best album since Desire, and have praised it here in the past. I wouldn't call it "breathtaking" or "top notch," but it certainly had some strong songs. I was a 20-year-old Dylan newbie at the time, so unlike long-time fans I didn't consider the slick production to be heresy.

    I remember it getting good reviews when it was released. Stereo Review named Best of the Month, and there was an enthusiastic review in Rolling Stone by (I think) Kurt Loder.
     
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  3. MYKE

    MYKE Analog Upstairs, Digital Downstairs

    In this family, nothing touches Infidels. That said, Empire Burlesque is a strong album, and Tight Connection is a favorite track overall.
     
  4. JRM

    JRM Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Mile High City
    Agree on the strong songs but I think Infidels is better. Thanks for mentioning the RS review, you're right...very enthusiastic!

    "...his twenty-ninth LP is something else: a blast of real rock & roll, funneled through a dense, roiling production — custom-chopped-and-channeled by remix wiz Arthur Baker — that affords Dylan more pure street-beat credibility than he has aspired to since ... well, pick your favorite faraway year."

    http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/empire-burlesque-19850704
     
  5. When you hit the statue of Dylan in the music industry, it won't be hard to dig up a glowing review somewhere for everything he's released in the past fifty years.
     
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  6. RayS

    RayS A Little Bit Older and a Little Bit Slower

    Location:
    Out of My Element
    I've always liked "Empire Burlesque". Yes, the raw tracks are better than the finished product, but there are still a truckload of really good songs here despite the production. I wouldn't say that it is as good as "Infidels", but it's not a large drop-off either. Overall, it is as good a batch of songs as "Oh Mercy" - the finished product just isn't as good.
     
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  7. Purple Jim

    Purple Jim Forum Resident

    Location:
    Little Britain
    I never liked the album. My God, that dreadful 80s production!
    However "Dark Eyes" is tremendous and one of my favourite Zim songs.
     
  8. I'm partial to Empire Burlesque and Infidels because Sly & Robbie play on those.
     
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  9. Terry

    Terry Senior Member

    Location:
    Milwaukee
    Fantastic album.
     
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  10. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    Location:
    ft. lauderdale, fl
    Am a huge fan of the songs and performances. The synths and 'canned sound' sometimes rubs me the wrong way, but fwiw, it's my favorite Dylan album of the 80's.
     
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  11. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    I remember hearing Tight Connection... and being nervous. I wasn't sure I liked the "sound" of it. Then my friend bought the album when it came out in 1985 and we had a few beers and listened to it.
    Overall, I was very dissappointed after the wonderfully strong "comeback" that was "Infidels" in 1983.
    I still think the production ruins that album overall, but I like Seeing The Real You At Last, Emotionally Yours and Dark Eyes.
    I can listen to it the odd time (like Under The Red Sky), if the mood strikes me.
     
  12. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    Personally, I think "Oh Mercy" smokes it in every way.

    ***** Oh Mercy
    **1/2 Empire Burlesque
     
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  13. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Forum Resident

    Tight Connection is a gem. I enjoy the album very much.
     
  14. S. P. Honeybunch

    S. P. Honeybunch Presidente de Kokomo

    Location:
    California
    If Infidels has any weaknesses it is that Dylan might be too tied to rock 'n roll styles and not free enough with a simple low key acoustic backing. "Blind Willie McTell" shows how powerful Dylan is with acoustic based material, not that the rocking "Jokerman" isn't as great or greater.

    On Empire Burlesque the acoustic numbers draw a sonic distinction with the rockers that adds to a nice variety of sound. This approach highlights the breadth and depth of Dylan's material. Infidels is actually more of a "disco Dylan" album than Empire Burlesque due to him relying more heavily on drums and bass. Somehow, that tag stuck to the latter, however.
     
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  15. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    I don't quite agree here. Infidels is a product of it's time production-wise as is Empire Burlesque, but Mark Knopfler brought something special to the sound of that album.
    By the way, consider what Infidels would have been like, had it been issued the way Knopfler had originally assembled it. He poured a lot of heart and soul into that album only to have Dylan re-tool it for release later after it had been officially finished and ready to go.
    Check your Clinton Heylin books for the original running order, but it did include Blind Willie McTell and Foot Of Pride.
     
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  16. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    I found the original track listing for Infidels:

    Jokerman
    License To Kill
    Man Of Peace
    Neighbourhood Bully
    Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight
    Blind Willie McTell
    Sweetheart Like You
    I and I
    Foot Of Pride


    Many of these songs have original parts that Dylan redid when he futzed with the album after Knopfler was finished with it.
    It's been said that Knopfler (for years) was very upset about it (and rightfully so)
     
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  17. ymenard

    ymenard Forum Resident

    Location:
    Montreal, Quebec
    As proven by the Supper Club shows, the stuff from Empire Burlesque can become simply amazing when stripped-down. Tight Connection to My Heart, Dark Eyes, I'll Remember You, etc.. even more if you take the outtakes like New Danville Girl.


     
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  18. JRM

    JRM Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Mile High City
    I agree that Oh Mercy is much better, but I'm a little more enthusiastic about EB, 3 or 3.5 stars.
     
  19. quicksrt

    quicksrt Senior Member

    Location:
    City of Angels
    Yes, wonderful album. Remember what Tom Petty said, Dylan's low point is pretty high.
     
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  20. dee

    dee Forum Resident

    Location:
    ft. lauderdale, fl
    It is a recording (same takes) that I would love to hear remixed and with a different 'sound' to it, although I like the sound of the vocals.
     
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  21. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    Knocked Out Loaded and Down In The Groove remain pretty low (and I'm one of the biggest Dylan freaks you'll ever meet!):laugh:
     
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  22. JRM

    JRM Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Mile High City
    KOL and DITG are both in my bottom 5 for sure (especially KOL).
     
  23. quicksrt

    quicksrt Senior Member

    Location:
    City of Angels
    I find some of the material on them both rather great, or at least good. Death is not the End grew on me, I actually like it now. Let's Stick Together as well, I think it rocks hard and has wonderful sound quality.
     
  24. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    For me, I love Silvio and I like Got My Mind Made Up and Brownsville Girl.
    That leaves a lot of filler on those 2 albums.
     
  25. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    I like Nick Cave's version of Death Is Not The End from Murder Ballads. He really does a cool version of it with some guest vocalists.
    Better than Bob's.
     
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