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Bob Dylan – Desire

$72.45

AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If Blood on the Tracks was an unapologetically intimate affair, Desire is unwieldy and messy, the deliberate work of a collective. And while Bob Dylan directly addresses his crumbling relationship with his wife, Sara, on the final track, Desire is hardly as personal as its predecessor, finding Dylan returning to topical songwriting and folk tales for the core of the record. It’s all over the map, as far as songwriting goes, and so is it musically, capturing Dylan at the beginning of the Rolling Thunder Revue era, which was more notable for its chaos than its music. And, so it’s only fitting that Desire fits that description as well, as it careens between surging folk-rock, Mideastern dirges, skipping pop, and epic narratives. It’s little surprise that Desire doesn’t quite gel, yet it retains its own character — really, there’s no other place where Dylan tried as many different styles, as many weird detours, as he does here. And, there’s something to be said for its rambling, sprawling character, which has a charm of its own. Even so, the record would have been assisted by a more consistent set of songs; there are some masterpieces here, though: “Hurricane” is the best-known, but the effervescent “Mozambique” is Dylan at his breeziest, “Sara” at his most nakedly emotional, and “Isis” is one of his very best songs of the ’70s, a hypnotic, contemporized spin on a classic fable. This may not add up to a masterpiece, but it does result in one of his most fascinating records of the ’70s and ’80s — more intriguing, lyrically and musically, than most of his latter-day affairs.

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Description

Bob Dylan cut Desire flanked by more than a dozen musicians, aided by a producer averse to multitracking, and bent on tequila. Reeling from the effects of his disintegrating marriage, the singer penned several of the most heartfelt songs of his career, including “Sara,” the most overtly public broadcasting of his private life and emotions committed to tape. Straddling lines between haphazard and organized, loose and planned, Desire lives up its title, a masterwork that Dylan would not equal in creativity, performance, and lyricism for another two decades.

Mastered from the original master tapes on Mobile Fidelity’s world-renowned mastering system and pressed at RTI, this restored 45RPM analog version lays bare the catch-all ambience of the sessions as well as the unguarded emotionalism that fueled them. Largely captured at one unruly New York studio date, many songs are first-take arrangements, experienced on this reissue in a raw, realistic fashion that allows chords to swell, vocals to naturally carry, and percussion to span a seemingly bridge-wide soundstage. Accenting instruments—bouzouki, accordion, mandolin, violin, congas, piano—gain their own space and color the music with intriguing textures.

Surging with a nothing-to-lose disposition, Desire juggles many styles and owns up to no single theme. Disappointment and loss related to Dylan’s broken relationship surfaces directly and metaphorically, but the album isn’t mired in depression or sadness. More often than not, it howls, the sprawling canvas needle pointed with complexity and diversity. In pairing with lyricist Jacques Levy, Dylan invites narrative collaboration he never again repeated, as well as an eclecticism that gives the effort its fascinating charm.

Desire finds Dylan at an evocative peak. With the tour de force single “Hurricane,” he composes his first protest song in years, the enraged verses aimed squarely at maintaining the innocence of boxer Ruben Carter, falsely convicted of murder, as a violin melody swirls in the background. He finds similar inspiration in gangster Joey Gallo, turning “Joey” into a beautiful epic outfitted with Emmylou Harris’ transcendent backing vocals. Flashing a sense of humor, “Mozambique” relishes an irreverent quirkiness that balances the more serious fare.

And in the nakedly biographical “Sara,” Mediterranean-flavored “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below),” fragile “Oh, Sister,” and swirling fable “Isis,” Dylan develops a series of loosely related songs at once flawless, timeless, and tireless. Rarely has the folk-rock icon addressed love, romance, and loss more openly, eloquently, or universally. It’s no wonder they remain amongst the very favorites of many hardcore Dylan enthusiasts, and account for a large reason why Rolling Stone ranks Desire the 174th greatest album of all-time. Don’t miss your chance to experience it in the best fidelity it’s ever enjoyed.

 

1. Hurricane
2. Isis
1. Mozambique
2. One More Cup of Coffee
3. Oh, Sister

1. Joey
2. Romance in Durango
1. Black Diamond Bay
2. Sara

 

 

Additional information

Weight 1.200 kg
Dimensions 32.0 × 32.0 × 2.0 cm