Bob Dylan – Desire Review
Written by Ewan Gleadow on 12th October 2021
A decade into his career and his finest work behind him, Bob Dylan wishes to speak of desire. What does he wish for? Desire is a coupling of all those fine notes he leaves behind in his earliest works and those that do not make the cut in later releases. It is unclear as to whether Dylan wants a clean break from his past or a new approach to his style, while still keeping the notes that made him the man he is. After all, Dylan is a great experimenter. One of the few to leave his mark on sound and the arts as more than a musician, but as an innovator that so many learn from.
As opening track Hurricane would hint at, something greater was trundling down the tracks. Blood on the Tracks now a year gone by, but Desire is the calm after that storm. Even then, the calm is still enough to rock the boat, to innovate and excite and preside over more strong lyrics. A wild and large crashing of musicians makes for a special collaborative piece. Experimental, but in a way that does not grate on the ears too often. Dylan is no Trout Fish Mask Replica, and at his heart is still a desire to make something of quality. He manages that much with Desire, but his own, eponymous inclinations are shrouded in the guilty and misery-doused tones of his lyrics and the drifter-like attitude he and his stories take on.
These are the risks Dylan wishes to show, however ambiguously it may be. Closing track Sara is certainly the closest listeners will get to see a real, vulnerable part of Dylan. A crying farewell to his at-the-time wife, Sara. But that big band atmosphere still rings through, notably so on Hurricane and understandably so on Iris. From there, Desire deviates into doing songs that have little cruxes and oddities as their starting point. Dylan wishes to adapt those moments as fleeting observations and fun challenges to write about. Joey lingers on as a lengthy track, not as strong or moving as Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, but certainly as descriptive and emotionally in tune with the singer and his intentions. Just not as strong. He had hit the highs once, and to do so again with a song just a few seconds shorter than his Blonde on Blonde masterpiece is wishful thinking.
Weaker moments of experimentation on Mozambique and Romance in Durango still pave the way to pockets of artistic interest. Art is risk, and Dylan accepts that. 17 studio albums into his career and his work is still as fresh, free and risk-oriented as his first offering. His big-band style is an engaging one, the sultry lyrics are stretched and syllables are dragged out as best as Dylan can perceive them. His experiment is a success, more because his lyrical strengths are so consistent, and how he adapts them to this new avenue of musical styling is interesting. One More Cup of Coffee is as entertaining as it is interesting, and a perfect understanding that desire does not have to be for a big change, sometimes it can be for something as small as coffee. Desire treads through its narrative with that in mind, the desires are simple and the writing is effective.