4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2012
For a long time, I found this album almost unlistenable and thought Arthur Baker was a pariah for splashing so much pointless crap over Bob Dylan songs. As was the trend at the time, the drums are mixed way too high and sound like somebody bashing an empty cardboard box with a wooden spoon; either that or those new-fangled electronic drums that sound like 'douche!' every time they're hit.
Dylan wasn't on his own. Just about every artiste who emerged in the sixties were releasing albums that sounded like this; Neil Young, Eric Clapton, John Martyn et al. This was either corporate pressure for saleable product, or a genuine desire to sound so. In Dylan's case, I reckon it was the former. But time can do strange things to music, and the 80's don't sound quite as dated as they did ten years ago, quixotic as that sounds.
The album itself was quite a long, drawn out process, so it is a shame that only about half of the songs are what you might call 'good Dylan'. A handful are actually very good indeed, including Tight Connection, Seeing The Real You At Last and the surprising all-acoustic closer, Dark Eyes. Given the price you can pick it up for these days, its worth getting for these songs alone. One song really grates, though....When The Night Comes Falling. Particularly so after hearing the version on Bootleg Series Vol 3, which is excellent. The version on Empire Burlesque is a horrible Frankenstein's monster of a song, the aural equivalent of somebody rattling a money tin right up to your ear.
It is not a truly bad album, but it isn't great either. I would recommend for those who applaud it wholeheartedly to listen to Highway 61 Revisted again for a reality check.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Although it's fair to say all well established artists should have their own well defined style/priniples when it comes to the creative process, the mid - eighties was a very strange time generally on the music front. Bob Dylan's own brand of singer/songwriter ideals at the time was deeply unfashionable and like Mick Jagger, Neil Young and Lou Reed he felt the only way for his music to be heard was to make concessions to the contemporary sounds of the day. The fact that Bob was not on top form in a songwriting sense at that time anyway may be purely coincidental or as a result of feeling completely at odds with the musical climate of the time. Producer Arthur Baker's sound and the general eighties instrumentation was quite uncompatable when revealing the true strengths of Bob's talent.
The opening and closing tracks are my favourites 'Tight Connection To My Heart' and 'Dark Eyes' although the first song was far more effective in its original form when demoed for 'Infidels' as 'Someone's Got A Hold Of My Heart'. It's not necessarily a truly bad album but it is a piece of works which fails to reflect those things that make Bob a unique artist.
'Empire Burlesque' is probably at its most enjoyable if the listener is unaware of Bob's pedigree - it can then be listened to on its own terms and perhaps be occasionally enjoyed.
Unfortunately 'Empire' represented the beginning of a very uninspiring period for Bob in which he'd release 'Knocked Out Loaded', 'Down In The Groove' and the live 'Dylan And The Dead'.
Really though 'Empire Burlesque' is merely a symptom of its time when Bob decided it was probably best to stop swimming against the tide. When the musical landscape changed somewhat in the nineties and singer/songwriters and more traditional sounds were more accepted again Bob once again returned to what he does best and released some cracking albums.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This 1985 album is the twenty-third from icon Bob Dylan. It comes right in the middle of a run of less than impressive albums that ran from 1979's `Slow Train Coming', and ended in 1997 with `Time Out Of Mind', with only the brief respite of 1989's `Oh Mercy'. In fact this album marks the start of a run of three albums that I rate as the worst of Dylan's career.
Following 1983's `Infidels', where Dylan had managed to update his sound, though had failed to marry that with any interesting songwriting, here he went the whole hog and embraced the worst of the eighties with lots of synthesizers and drum machines in evidence. It makes the music very detached and soulless. Added to which, Dylan just hasn't written any interesting songs. Or if they have then they are smothered in overproduction. Another cardinal sin is that his second greatest asset (after his writing) his distinctive voice is totally lost in the mix. It's an uninteresting, soulless and totally forgettable album. Having listened a few times there are no tracks that have lodged in my mind. Even `Self Portrait' had a couple of genius tracks, here there is nothing for me. One star only, this was the real nadir of his career for me.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2011
This is a great Bob Dylan album.This is another another side of Bob Dylan.A new audacious sound to loose him more devotees but in truth the sound of an artist not wanting to repeat himself and not afraid to try something bold, novel and provacative.This is an album from Bob Dylan on top creative form. The sound is as challenging as Bringing It All Back Home, Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait or Saved.This is Dylan demonstrating his greatness as a composer-musician,bandleader,arranger,co-singer,singer and,of course, songwriter.
Empire Burlesque is a creative milestone: the innovative use of instrumentation and sounds, the brilliant evocative singing, the delightful use of the second vocal, the devastating use of the backing singers, the geogeous melodies and the inspired sequencing of the songs which is as good as Highway 61 Revisted, Blood on the Tracks or Good As I Been To You. The album is not a masterpiece like those albums are but it is a great Bob Dylan album.
The songs are brilliant with their themes of love,loss,betrayal,faith,compassion and salvation and the innovative use of song structures,rhymes and phrases.The sound is truly magical whether on the "simple" ballads such as the wistful,piano led I'll Remember You,the tender Never Gonna Be The Same Again and, exceptionally so, on Emotionally Yours or on the epic songs Tight Connection To My Heart,When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky, Something's Burning Baby and Dark Eyes.
The voice is as inspirational as it has ever been with ,again, the emotional thrust of the second vocal and the extraordinary counterpoint of the backing singers. I give all the credit to Bob Dylan for this musical landscape despite the fact that he gave the album to Arthur Baker to mix.I do not believe that Arthur Baker did too much with the sound or altered Dylan's overall vision because Baker is an intelligent man who respects Bob Dylan.Dylan is as engaged,distinctive and inventive as ever on this majestic album. As always with great Dylan the greatness lies in the interplay between his voice,the musical accompaniment and the words.The exquisitness of many of these performances is a deliberate challenge to those people that expect and want a certain type of love song from Bob Dylan.Some of Dylans all-time greatest songs are so-called simple songs such as Knockin' On Heavens Door - not all great Dylan songs are visionary,poetic and have layers of meaning (of course, this is ONE of the reasons that he is the greatest songwriter ever but this is totally and utterly lost on the greybeards). More to the point, these songs are not lost on other performers; Patti Smith,Judy Collins,O'Jays,The Black Crowes,John Martyn, Carlene Carter and Sowetta Gospel Choir are among the many performers from different musical genres to cover thes songs.
When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky is a tour de force - simply one of the finest songs of Dylan's career. A great song with a performance to match - forget the tentative outake version,this is the real thing. Trust Yourself is great song with superb lyrics and a quite brilliant arrangement - the backing singers excell here.
As many times before, this is a Dylan album that challenges preconceived notions about who Bob Dylan is. Like say Desire with it's co-written story songs and violin led gypsy band or Saved with it's glorious gospel songs, this is a Bob Dylan album that defiantly refuses to give people what they want.This is one element of Bob Dylan that I greatly admire - and sets him apart - but is one that is lost on many commentators. Bob Dylan has never played the game. Never. His motto has always been: the audience find me.This is a Dylan album that is essentially self produced as most of his best albums are ( or have Bob Johnson turning the knobs ) and is an album that proves, if any proof was needed, that Dylan is a musical giant - a master of musical composition and musical dynamics, of seemingly endless variation,a true innovator and yet at the same time a musician who respects tradition and a performer who respects a wide canvas of music from Memphis Minnie to Bing Crosby to Kurtis Blow and ,most importantly, a master of melody which he hardly ever repeats and a gift which rarely fails him. This album demands to be played over and over again. It stands the test of time - arguably sounding better now than when it came out in 1985. And then there is the final song on the album Dark Eyes. A brilliant poignant song about faith and compassion with some wonderful rhymes and a beautiful vocal performance and, tantalisingly, his first solo acoustic performance since Wedding Song on 1974's Planet Waves. A lovely signing off in the way only Bob Dylan can, " Oh, time is short and the days are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies
A million faces at my feet and all I see are dark eyes ".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2014
Perhaps Bob listened to Neil Young's "Landing on Water" and thought, hey, I could make a record this bad.
It seems synthesizers completely foxed several guitar based artists of the 60s and 70s; how could they react to them, incorporate them into their sounds? In hindsight, the answer was to simply let them pass. That wasn't obvious at the time.
on 16 April 2012
What are all these people talking about?
Listened to as a collection of new songs at least there's nothing as jarring as Hurricane or Knoxville Girl
Does it really matter about some new producer or the use of synths-which are not evident anyway? Its a long way off the sounds of a New Order album.
I'm more interested in Dylan covers or songs HE covered and don't have this problem of analysing every sound.
As for the 80s this was a decade of musical changes which I don't see as affecting Dylan's music.At least he never went the AOR route.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2007
EMPIRE BURLESQUE is a terrific album. But before I tell you my own impression, let me tell you what helped shape this impression. I use AllMusic Guide a lot, and this record is the one that's rated the highest of the 1980s, earning 4 1/2 stars out of 5, above INFIDELS (4 stars) and OH MERCY (3), and on level with TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN' as well as DESIRE. So I went in expecting a lot. A lot is what I got.
The followup to the 1983 Infidels, EB is, song for song, one of the strongest albums in Dylan's latter days. Much like Street-Legal, EB has some very slick production (though of a much different kind than Street Legal). This has long been a sore spot for Dylan fans and music critics, claiming the record has very dated 1980s production style, and several have had some unkind remarks about EB's producer, Arthur Baker. While it is true the production is very slick, it suits the music well. I'd argue this is simply the most well-constructed album Dylan wrote in the 1980s, bettering OH MERCY and INFIDELS, his two other major works from that decade. All of the music sounds of one piece, and meant to be played together.
Two of the songs were originally recorded for INFIDELS. The first was "Clean Cut Kid," which Dylan did not finish until the EB sessions. The second was "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart," which was reworked into the opening cut for EB and retitled "Tight Connection to My Heart." While there is a significant group of fans who claim the earlier versions (including the unreleased outtake that is widely circulating in collector circles) is the better version, I've always preferred the EB version. It has always been a particular favorite of mine ever since I got into Dylan several years ago. It has backup vocals that work, and Dylan singing some great lines on that one.
The rest of this is pretty solid material, with only one dud in sight: "Something's Burning", which has never done a lot for me, but it does suit the atmosphere of the record, much like "New Pony" does on STREET-LEGAL. The O'Jays made "Emotionally Yours" the title cut for their 1991 album and became a huge hit. The fact that a R&B outfit made a big hit out of Dylan's song speaks for the versatility of his music. "Dark Eyes", written because Dylan needed a closing song, and he like the idea of doing a simple, unadorned song after nine heavily produced tracks, not only stands as one of the highlights of his 1980s canon, but of all his post 1960s music as well.
As with all of Dylan's albums, he recorded a large number outtakes that did not make the final cut. Much of the outtakes have never circulated. There are several that have however. He did a cover of Ray Dorsett's "In the Summertime", "Freedom for the Stallion" by Allen Toussaint, "Straight A's in Love" by Johnny Cash. He also recorded the originals "'Go Away Little Boy," a song he gave to the band Lone Justice, "Who Loves You More", "Waiting To Get Beat," and "The Very Thought of You." The latter two are the same music with two wildly different lyrics. "Who Loves You More" is a virtually finished take that should have made the album, and "Freedom For the Stallion" is also a great song. He recorded "New Danville Girl", an early version of "Brownsville Girl" from 1986's KNOCKED OUT LOADED. The later version is much better, but it is interesting to hear. He also recorded "Drifting To Far From Shore. Like "Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart" and "Clean Cut Kid", recorded during INFIDELS but not finalized until EMPIRE BURLESQUE, Dylan chose to leave the song behind. While he recorded new take of the other two songs, Dylan would leave the EB recording unfinished, until after several major overdubs released the same take on the critically reviled KNOCKED OUT LOADED. It was one of the best songs on that record, though it isn't saying much.
One of the biggest complaints with this is Dylan going contemporary in what has become a critically shunned era in this culture. It is true, Dylan's missed the boat as to what was happening on the music scene the majority of his post 1960s career, but you can't predict just what he's going to do. He even missed the whole psychedelic era, recording rustic ballads and a more country style in the late 1960s. And its not the first attempt for him to sound contemporary. The reason he hired Knopfler for SLOW TRAIN COMING was to give his songs comtemporary shape AllMusic cites the production as a flaw, but I don't really see why. It works for this listener, and this album is one of his best later works. In fact, I'd say its even more solid overall than the critically acclaimed OH MERCY, though OH MERCY's production is much better and less dated than EB. Song for song EB is stronger though.
Bottom line: buy it. Though the 1980s is considered the nadir of Dylan's career, he released some remarkable music during that decade, even though his albums were notoriously uneven. EMPIRE BURELSQUE, OH MERCY, and INFIDELS comprise the major releases by the shifting persona Dylan of the 1980s.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2009
Mr.Zimmerman certainly did take a few strange turns in the eighties, much like (as the reviewer above notes) other great singer-songwriters. Although, as in many albums of this period by many artists, the production dates badly, there are a few tracks here which shine through.
The opener 'Tight connection to my heart (has anybody seen my love)' is particularly good, and I am willing to look past the production because of it's quality as a song. 'I'll remember you' is almost a parody of other tracks by Dylan in which there is genune emotion, like he is actually taking the piss out of the 'wine' that his detractors hate (I personally love his voice generally). 'Clean Cut Kid' is pretty cheesy and quite funny to listen to really.
'Never Gonna Be the Same Again' and 'Dark Eyes' are very good tracks, 'Dark Eyes' again showing that Dylan pretty much always closes his albums with an amazing track ('Buckets of Rain' from 'Blood on the tracks', 'Sad eyed lady of the Lowlands' from 'Blonde on Blonde' and 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight' from the amazing 'John Wesley Harding')
I wouldn't start here if you don't know Dylan at all. He is a great artist to start with early on in his career and listen to the progression of themes and styles depending on where he is in his life.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2006
I'm not an authority on Dylan, I just like some - not all - of his music. This album is among my favourites of everything he's done, and that's probably because of the ballads I'll Remember You and Emotionally Yours: I just think they're songwriting at its best. No-one seems to have written consistently about love like Dylan has. What surprises me is that everybody knows Tambourine Man; but not everybody knows (or likes!) this album. Possibly it's lost amidst the 'scandal' of his alleged religious conversion in the late 70s. One thing that distinguishes it from the rest of his output is the excellent, but sadly unrehearsed, gospel harmonising on most of the songs. If you're a devotee of Dylan's lyrics, there's plenty here to get your interpretative teeth into (esp. the last solo guitar/harmonica ballad Dark Eyes); and if you just like uptempo love (or socio-political) songs, then Empire Burlesque ought to satisfy; but if you're a follower of his early work, then this post-Saved album might not appeal to you.
26 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2002
Honestly now it has to be asked: what happened to Bob in the 80's. Was he corrupted by the utter banality of the generations art work? Was he cruelly hit on the back of the head with a baseball bat, only to recently recover? Believe me, I exaggerate not - this is bad stuff. Somebody really should have taken him aside and told him to take a listen to some of the stuff from this decade because i'm sure he would have come to his senses fairly quickly. As we have it we are presented with an album full of drum machines, backing vocals that remind me of 60's Diana Ross and drum windups that remind me of Tina Turner ala "The Best", none of which is essentially bad, it's just that none of this suits the soul encompassing songs that Dylan can create.
Particular songs that suffer this is the opening "Tight connection to my heart" which has some of the most painfully nauseating backing vocals I have ever forced my ears to suffer, "Seeing the real you at last" which contains similarly annoying use of trumpets and "I'll remember you" which sound like it belongs on a really bad shmaltzy 80's movie starring Patrick Swayze. It gets better: "Emotionally yours" is actually quite nice. I can imagine this being quite a moving song if it was to be paired down to just a piano led track. As it is we have to listen to some particularly annoying random noises created by some buffoon. "Something's burning, baby" is another such song, suffering less, and it is possible to hear the greatness of Dylan behind some of the mistakes it does contain. It is all worth suffering though for the final "Dark Eyes". Maybe i'm a bit of a traditionalist but i much prefer Dylan left to things he understands. Left to just an acoustic guitar and harmonica this sounds very nice. It's not one of his greatest works but it is a badly needed reminder of what the man is capable of. Still, despite the up sides to this album it will take me a while to recover from being preached at in "Trust Yourself".
PLEASE, IF YOU ARE THINKING OF TRYING DYLAN FOR THE FIRST TIME DO NOT TRY THIS ONE. May I suggest "The Times they are a' changin'" "Blonde on Blonde" "Blood on the Tracks" or the more recent "Time out of mind" which shows that he is still the great songwriter that he always was. I was tempted to throw this away after first listening to it but on second thought it is worth keeping if only because it help to remind me that Dylan is not a God. Just a damn good songwriter when he chooses to be himself.
It will eternally amaze me the riots this man suffered simply because he chose to start using an electric guitar and managed to avoid any ridicule when he seemingly tried to write the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop, which is what half of this seems to want to be.