Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

Bob Dylan's Bringing it All Back Home was the album that brought him out of the folkie scene and certified him as a major rock and roll artist.  Up until 1965, Dylan had been a first among equals in urban folk music, with a penchant for composing rich, detailed ballads and direct protest broadsides.  On Bringing it All Back Home, Dylan upended everything and blazed a new trail.
Bringing it All Back Home finds Dylan turning his vision inside out and offering up cynical, subversive observations of lovers, society, culture, and everything else.  The women he encounters are secretive and elusive, while his portraits of contemporary America go from being comedies of conformists and authority figures to laments of outcasts and misfits.  The lyrics use twisted allegories, vague references and clever rhymes in some sort of Beat rhythm while remaining true to blues and folk narrative traditions.  The songs are mostly set to biting, gnawing electric arrangements with raw guitars and steady drums, delivered by Dylan's own menacing voice.  Even the few acoustic numbers here have a sense of electric tension in their choppy chords and stunted melodies.     
Bringing it All Back Home charges out of the gate with his breathless stream of consciousness "Subterranean Homesick Blues," a pointed description of paranoia and restlessness that is nothing short of a document of complacency falling to awareness.  Throughout the electric rock of side one, Dylan loves confronting reality and exposing it in the abstract, from his characterization of society as a plantation on the mocking "Maggie's Farm" to discovering  the underbelly of "straight" America in "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream," with its surreal visions of bumbling policemen, knee-jerk conservatives, and indifferent bystanders.  Irony is the only way Bob can make sense of personal relationships; "She Belongs To Me" expresses backhanded reverence for a head-strong woman who can't belong to anyone, leaving her lover down on his knees to inspire her creative impulses, while "Love Minus Zero / No Limit" tells a deceptively gentle tale of a woman who seems to take everything in stride but who "knows there's no success like failure" and "knows to much to argue or to judge."  But it's in the  heavy, crunchy rhythms of "Outlaw Blues," where Dylan, envisioning himself as a man on the run, warns his listeners to beware of delving into the meaning of his songs.  "Don't ask me nothin' about nothin,'" he tells us, "I just might tell you the truth."
On side two of Bringing it All Back Home, Dylan's mostly acoustic songs are more introspective than his work had ever been, from the lonesome troubadour of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and the cosmic possibilities his tambourine offers (the Byrds' excellent cover would expose Dylan and folk to a new rock audience) to the Bosch-like horror show of the "Gates of Eden," where truth does not exist and Eden itself is as silent and indifferent tomb.  The monumental "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" is a declaration of independence from the political movements that Dylan no longer found effective that contains some of his most pointed and direct observations, while "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" closes the door on his past associations forever.  In bringing back home all of the creativity in rock that had seemed to be lost to the British Invasion, Dylan was also making it clear that he wasn't going back to from where he came. He was eager to leave his coffeehouse politics and his protest past behind and present a vision of the world that was his alone.  And we're still afraid to ask him what he means, lest we find out the truth.     
(This review commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Bringing It All Back Home this month.)    

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