Sunday, September 9, 2012

174 Desire. Bob with Friends

Album: Desire
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1976
Genre: Rock


  1. Hurricane
  2. Isis
  3. Mozambique
  4. One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)
  5. Oh, Sister
  6. Joey
  7. Romance in Durango
  8. Black Diamond Bay
  9. Sara

Some artists need all the help they can get. There are performers out there who are nothing without a team of songwriters, producers, musicians, stylists, fashion designers, choreographers and hangers on. Then there are people like Dylan who don't need anyone. As his early albums proved, Bob can create greatness armed with just a guitar, a harmonica and a head full of ideas. He can write an album of hit songs without any help and produce greatness all alone in a studio.

But in the middle of the seventies Bob started to get lonely. He wanted to write with someone and play with lots of someones. He wanted to record as part of a group, tour as part of an ensemble and generally live his new life as a single person with as many others as possible. Which is why he launched into The Rolling Thunder Revue, a tour which included dozens of people who loved him (and Joni Mitchell as well) and wrote songs with Jacques Levy, a guy he met who directed plays and had a doctorate in psychology. He took this new collection of songs into the studio which he packed with backing singers and a huge number of musicians including a violin player he heard busking on the street and (at one point) five different guitarists.

Somehow in amongst the shambles, Bob managed to create an album of material which he released to a world eager to hear his follow up to the previous year's stellar Blood on the Tracks. It still amazes me that they weren't disappointed.

Desire wouldn't make my top 10 list of Dylan albums. In fact it would barely make my top twenty. Most of the songs are too long, too repetitive and too full of backing vocals or annoyingly over zealous violin. Scarlet Riviera plays the fiddle like a woman who spends her days desperately trying to get as much attention as possible on street corners. She managed to go through the entire recording process without ever realising that sometimes in a studio less is more. I adore Blood on the Tracks and if I'd bought it in 1975 (when I was two) I would have been a hugely disappointed three year old to get this as a follow up a year later.

Like almost every Dylan album ever released I think this could have been improved with the inclusion of a few outtakes. If Dylan had dropped the long and ponderously overblown Joey or (and I know this is sacrilege) the tediously repetitive Hurricane, he could have included Abandoned Love and Catfish which would have made the album a few steps more interesting.

Part of me wonders whether I genuinely dislike Desire or whether I'm just too obsessed with the image of Dylan as lone maverick to have the good grace to accept him as co-writer and band-member. Perhaps the idea of my hero needing people doesn't sit well with me and I wonder if the problem is my own perception and not the music. But when I get to the five minute mark of Joey and realise I'm not even half way through I become fairly convinced it is the music after all.

Highlight: One more cup of coffee
Lowlight: Joey

Influenced by: Everyone in the studio
Influenced: The White stripes, Ani Di Franco and the American justice system.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review quote: "The song "Hurricane" is about the destructive power of tropical storms and is easily the best song on the album."

-Really? I could have sworn it had something to do with a boxer. Is this guy seriously suggesting a tropical storm was wrongly imprisoned for murder?

So is this brilliant or do you desire something more? Let me know below.


  1. So you dislike this album? Well, I thought that although it was good, some of the tracks were a bit long-winded; nonetheless I think it is a good album, although it could have been lower on the list.

    So what I would recommend is discussing the placement of each album on the list, and whether or not it deserves that placement. If I could refer you to another blogger that did the exact same thing as you are doing, on a blog that is called "One Man, 500 Albums" by a blogger named R.J. In his reviews, he did a thing where he noted "why Rolling Stone gets it right" and "why Rolling Stone gets it wrong" in reference to its placement on the list, and whether or not it is justified. He also stated succinctly about his opinion on the album as a whole with an "Is it Awesome?" section. I think that your blog may benefit from it. Just some suggestions.

    Also, Bob Dylan's new album "Tempest" came out today! I'm wondering: did you get it? and if so, what did you think of it? (for the record I thought it was g-r-r-eat!)

    1. Interesting blog. Thanks for pointing it out. I've been a bit reluctant to get too judgemental about what Rolling Stone did right or wrong because I understand music is subjective. I see the purpose of this blog as widening my own musical horizons rather and critiquing Rolling Stone's choices.

      I know my own personal list would be very different to Rolling Stone's but no more right or wrong. It's music after all and music isn't correct or incorrect it's just music.

      It's not that I dislike this album it's more that it's a disappointment compared to other Dylan albums. Personally I'd put 1989's Oh Mercy in this spot and drop Desire lower in the ranking.

      I did buy Tempest and I've given it a few listens but haven't been able to give it my full attention. The next few days involve a bit more travel so I'll have earphones in and give it a better listen. So far I'm enjoying it.

    2. Interesting perspective.

      And I see what you mean about this album being a disappointment. It's interesting that you would put Oh Mercy in its place. I can't say that I would disagree, as it is a pretty great album.