Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Twelve Best...Dylan Albums in the 70s (#6)

# 6. Slow Train Coming

A few weeks, I gave a diatribe about the lack of respect Dylan’s religious albums get among both fans and critics. It’s easy to jump on and ridicule because a) only 14 years prior, he spoke of “flesh-colored Christ’s that glow in the dark” and b) he’s singing about Jesus! I also mentioned in that posting about how I steer pretty much clear of all religion, but when it comes to the three or possibly four religious album—Slow Train Coming chief among them—I have a warm place in my heart for them.

The album leads off with “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which was the hit song and is the only one that’ll still show up on the set list—410 times to be exact. Of course the lyrics are rather lame (“You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,/You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,/You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray”) but the song is undeniably catchy.

My favorite song on the album is “Precious Angel” Yes, it’s corny, overdone and a little whiny but the band and Bob were clicking on all cylinders when it was recorded. It also features the strongest vocals by Dylan on the album. When I mentions the song’s whiny factor, it’s necessary because he’s reaching out to the girl (Jesus?) and wanting her (him?) to “shine their light” on him. Heck, I even like the verse, “You were telling him about Buddha/You were telling him about Mohammed in the same breath/You never mentioned one time/ the Man who came and died a criminal's death.”

“I Believe in You” seems to be the unanimous favorite song on the album but it doesn’t do anything for me. For everything on “Precious Angel” that I gave accolades, they becomes this song’s weaknesses because it’s just a bit over-the-top.

The most vicious song on the album would have to be “Slow Train.” Condemning his companions, Alabama, foreign oil companies and all of man in general, Dylan bites his hardest since “Idiot Wind” four years earlier. The song comes across as slightly hollow but still successful.

The next three songs—“Gonna Change My Way,” “Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” and “When You Gonna Wake Up”—are rather boring. They’re more fitting for halfway through Saved, in between “Pressing On” and “In the Garden.”

What can I say about “Man Gave Names to All the Animals”? I realize that it’s supposed to be a fun children’s song but there’s no reason it should be on an album by the same guy who wrote “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” The more fitting territory for it is a book, which is what it was eventually made in to.

The last song on the album continues Dylan’s amazing ability to put great songs as the finale. This time, it’s “When He Returns,” and its one his finest from both the religious period and from a 70s album not named Blood on the Tracks. Take, for instance, this verse:

“Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn that there'll be no peace, that the war won't cease
Until He returns?”

Sure it’s in the vain of “Blowin’ in the Wind” in that it’s a question song without answers, but you really believe that Dylan is asking us for the answer rather than just throwing the questions into the wind. Actually, he’s doing more than just asking—he needs to know the answer before it’s too late.

Recap: Give it another chance and you’re gonna change your way of thinkin’.

1 comment:

ken kurp said...

If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln