6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Established the trend that SHOT OF LOVE takes to the extreme,
This review is from: Slow Train Coming (Audio CD)
Of Dylan's three Christian albums, aesthetically this is the best and most consistent, although SAVED is a strong gospel album in its own right.. SHOT OF LOVE, while having some brilliant moments (although, unfortunately, most of the brilliant moments were left OFF that particular album), never really fully gelled to the vision Dylan seemed to want to take it. SHOT OF LOVE filled like it was supposed to be a Christian pop album, merging the best of both art forms into a cohesive whole. When it worked, it really worked ("Every Grain of Sand.") When it didn't, SHOT OF LOVE just sinks.
And what of SLOW TRAIN COMING? Well, like SHOT OF LOVE, only half of this record gels into truly great material. The first four songs on Side 1 start the album really strong. Judging from the momentum these songs have, SLOW TRAIN COMING should have a really strong finish, and would have been one of his best albums. Sadly, Dylan stalls halfway through the album and as a result SLOW TRAIN COMING is greatly weakened. The rest of the album becomes craftsmanship instead of art, though the album does end on a high note with "When He Returns", a classic Gospel song.
That, perhaps, is the best identifier for SLOW TRAIN COMING. Dylan's obviously focused on these tracks, and you can tell he wants the album to have a contemporary sound (hence Knopler and his gang). The first four tracks show's Dylan's brilliance in a Christian context. The remaining four (not including "When He Returns") show Dylan in a focused, workman like determination to come up with a collection of songs that reflect his new found faith. While there's nothing particularly wrong with these tracks, there's nothing particularly right with them either.
Instead of placing the highlights throughout the album, as he did with STREET LEGAL and SHOT OF LOVE, Dylan chose to put all the good stuff at the beginning. Perhaps the reason for this is to win sympathy for the album and to carry the record through to the end, but for this listener I just want to push stop and eject after the first four tracks have gone by. The listening frustration is more intense on SLOW TRAIN COMING because of this fact.
When Dylan strikes gold, he really hits it big time. The rest just appear as songs that anyone could have written, and sometimes the dogma makes for rather odd songs ("Man Gave Names To All The Animals"). "Man" is the most interesting track off the second side and that is because it's so strange and musically it's reggae. Other than that, while Dylan's commitment to his faith and his desire to channel this faith into his art is indeed an admirable cause, in the end there's only about a side here worth really looking at. The rest are good, just a long way from the brilliance of the first four cuts.
There are, as with most Dylan albums, some additional songs recorded that were not included. Unlike some of his albums, that wasn't a lot of surplus material left over, however. One is "Seven Days", a fair song in its own right that Ron Woods of Rolling Stone fame made a hit of. Dylan also recorded a song entitled "Trouble in Mind" and issued it as a b-side to "Gotta Serve Somebody". This song is one of the highlights of the Slow Train Coming sessions, and should have been on the album. Find it if you can. It's a great song. So is "Ye Shall be Changed" from the BOOTLEG SERIES. Both these songs are better and more enjoyable to listen too than the four workman-like songs on the second side.
This is probably the best album of the Christian Trilogy, though SAVED has some great songs. But people who don't necessarily like gospel will find more in STC than they will in SAVED, and a significant potion of his fan base will find STC easier to listen too.. The contrast between the brilliant tracks and the just so tracks becomes much more apparent in SHOT OF LOVE than SLOW TRAIN COMING. The worst material on here still stands as serviceable tracks, just not brilliant tracks. SHOT OF LOVE, however, is cluttered with material that just barely makes the cut aesthetically, yet the brilliant stuff of that album is even better than the first four songs here, so the extremes are more fully realised on SHOT OF LOVE than on SLOW TRAIN COMING. As for "Every Grain of Sand," nothing here matches that, but that is only one song and one song cannot make an album (listen to "In a Gadda Da Vida" for proof).
In relation to STREET LEGAL, this album seemed to be a natural progression. Dylan is always one for trying something different and new. Lyrically, there are cuts on STREET LEGAL is on rival with the best of his 1960s material. The last cut ("Where are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)") shows Dylan struggling to find something in his life worth caring about. Here is the answer to that question.
Bottom line: Dylan getting religion, while spiritually the most important thing a person can do, only results in fair material with some brilliant moments. Of his three Christian albums, this is the most even keeled and consistent. SAVED is a great album, but not as accessible to people who aren't into the whole gospel scene, and SHOT OF LOVE is just too inconsistent and had too many great songs cut to make it a worthwhile listen, though it has a handful of the best songs he ever wrote, which for Dylan is saying a lot.