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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 30 March 2017
Not the best Dylan.
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on 18 February 2012
First of all, I prefer this as an album to Knocked Out Loaded. Considerably so.
It doesn't have a single song on it with anything like the appeal of Brownsville Girl, but as an album it stands up better. It is a basic rock and roll and folk collection; and with much looking to the skies and saying 'thank you', the worst excesses of 80's production such as horrible drum sounds and swathes of irritating synths, are largely absent. For these reasons, it is perfectly listenable throughout and mostly enjoyable.
Nevertheless, there is still something half-assed about the whole affair. Death Is Not The End is a slightly turgid Infidels reject (directly so, the band is identical), and there are two songs where Robert Hunter has written the lyrics (Ugliest Girl in the World and Silvio). Based on this evidence alone, Robert Hunter can write lyrics about as well as I could rewire a house (I couldn't and wouldn't want to try) and one wonders why he was asked*. There are some pretty good knockabout rock songs; Had A Dream About You Baby springs to mind, for instance. But it is the last three songs, all covers, that actually impress me. Dylan sounds like he really cares about the material and does a rather good job on them, especially the closer - Rank Strangers To Me. I saw him sing this live in 1997 at Wembley Arena and it was probably the one song that really brought the house down, despite it being an excellent all-round show.
One of the reasons why music tends to change subtly over time is that events in the future shape the past as much as the reverse. In 1988, nobody knew that Dylan was less than a year and a ride to New Orleans away from a full critical revival. At the time, Down In The Groove was further proof that Bob Dylan was descending slowly into a sad anonymity, who could now sing covers far better than write his own songs. Now it can be enjoyed for what it is in full knowledge that the descent never happened; a short but reasonably enjoyable collection of covers and self penned ditties.

* he did a slightly better job on 2009's Together Through Life, admittedly.
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Three and a half stars, really. Judged by Dylan's own standards, this album is average but it does contain some gems that no fan should be without. The faster paced rock songs like the flowing Let's Stick Together, the humorous Ugliest Girl In The World with its RnB backing vocals and Sally are merely alright, not bad but not particularly memorable either. Eric Clapton provides some impressive guitar to Had A Dream About You Baby, whilst the track Silvio is quite buoyant and catchy in a lightweight pop way. None of these is lyrically profound but some of the slow ballads are.

These slow songs are the best by far. Most of them are melancholy and all of them are tuneful. Although it does contain some frightening, perhaps prophetic imagery, Death Is Not The End is a simple and comforting masterpiece embellished by his trademark harmonica and soulful backing vocals. Ninety Miles An Hour is powerful with haunting lyrics, the traditional Shenandoah - also with bursts of harmonica - gets a gospely treatment over a lilting beat and the album concludes on a high note with the yearning lament Rank Strangers To Me. These atmospheric songs remind me of his albums Saved, Shot Of Love and Infidels.
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on 29 May 2017
not a good album
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on 12 March 2010
A mixed bag, that's for sure: Down in the Groove contains some of Dylan's worst 1980s songs (as if harking back to his mid-decade low points) and some wonderful versions of old songs by other people (as if looking ahead to the wonderful covers-of-traditional-songs albums, Good As I've Been to You and World Gone Wrong). This means you get to hear charmless duds such as 'Had A Dream About You, Baby' and 'The Ugliest Girl In The World', alongside Dylan's spritely but not-quite-there version of Wilbert Harrison's 'Let's Stick Together'. Then there's the Infidels outtake, 'Death Is Not The End' (which somehow ended up waiting five years to be released here), and 'Silvio', which may not be his greatest song but which became something of a live favourite (for Dylan, at least).

What makes this album worthwhile is the closing trio of songs. On 'Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street)', 'Shenandoah' and 'Rank Strangers To Me', Dylan sings with conviction and emotion to deliver a compelling spiritual statement that perhaps hints at where he was heading next: the rediscovering of his songwriting muse - with a bleak new twist - on Oh Mercy.

Much to explore and to enjoy here: give this album a chance.
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on 21 June 2013
I only became a big fan of Dylan 2 years ago and started collecting all his music. I put Down in the Groove at the bottom of my list, as I did not really like his voice at this time. However, after listening to "When did you Leave Heaven", which I cannot stop playing, I decided I must buy this CD. I now love "Rank Stranger To Me" and "Shenandoah". 40+CDs' later, I have learned never to dismiss any of Dylan's albums , as there is always a wee "Gem" in them.
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on 7 January 2003
As a part of Bob's canon, this is not perceived as major, and, to use a cliche, should not be one of the first albums of his you buy - Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Blood On The Tracks would all be good choices. However, for the established Bob fan, this album is by no means abysmal.
Shenandoah, a traditional song which older Bob fans may well have heard from other sources during the folk days of the sixties, is simply awesome - Bob's voice echoes like it would on Good As I've Been To You and World Gone Wrong, and gives an outstandingly poignant rendition. The music is a brilliant adaption of a simple folk melody to an electric sensibility; the rhythm section is pulsating, seething with controlled energy. The song is a landmark in Bob's history, both on its own and as a pointer to his work from the middle '90s onwards, and should not be missed.
Shenandoah is, however, also notable in its initially stark contrast to the rest of the album. The album is essentially a series of covers, many of them rock n' roll standards, or at least rock n' roll influenced. Let's Stick Together is the most famous of these songs, and has appeared in many incarnations over the years - "come on, come on, let's stick together..." - it is the song you think it is! Bob's version is reasonably listenable. When Did You Leave Heaven has a prominent drum beat that seems to emphasise the off beat whilst everyone else plays to the on beat, which gives a somewhat strange effect; if one gets over this, though, this slow song, again with a very fine vocal performance from Bob, is one of the highlights of the album in its emotional power.
These two songs pave the way for the rest of the album, other than Shenandoah; the songs are rollicking rock n' roll or powerful and slow. On no song are the words particularly distinguished, but on the slow songs, Bob's tight emotion gives the songs an underlying meaning. Seriously, I do not think that Bob's voice has often been on better form than this late '80s period, and the slow songs here reflect that. On the fast songs, the lack of depth is sometimes concealed in the foot-tapping music.
Thus, in fact, Bob's own songs on this album, Had A Dream About You Baby, Death Is Not The End, and Ugliest Girl In The World (co-written with Robert Hunter) are far worse peformances than the covers, where Bob throws his heart and soul into it; on his own songs, one gets the impression that he knows that these lyrics are not his best, his melodies not his most inventive, but on the covers this of course does not matter. 'Rank Strangers To Me' is a phenomenal performance, Silvio (the best of Bob's compositions - again with Robert Hunter) licks along nicely, Sally Sue Brown is passable, and Ninenty Miles An Hour is bearable for me, though some love this song.
Bob fans should, then, get this album to hear Bob at his performing best, and to hear Shenandoah. These aspects make the album better than several other of Bob's albums, and should not be ignored.
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on 22 September 2003
I brought this album at the airport before going on holiday, as being a big Dylan fan, this was one of the few 'in-between albums' I didn't have. I had brought 'World Gone Wrong' a few weeks before hand and was not impressed and expected the same kind of outcome with this album.
But I loved it!!!
I love all Bob's slow songs/ballads and his beautifully sentimental 'when did you leave heaven' and hope-filled yet apocalyptic 'death is not the end' proved to me that no-one can do this sort of thing like Bob can.
And what can i say about 'ugliest girl in the world'? Musically it is a typical 12 bar stomper, but the tongue in cheek lyrics had me in stitches which doesn't happen to me much when I listen to Bob.
I don't think Bob put a lot of thought into this album, and it was written just as a contract filler, but I listen to it knowing it is Bob running at 25%, and enjoy it for what it is. OK, The songs could have been placed a bit more thoughtfully instead of the slow-fast-slow-fast sequence, but i just program my CD player and that sorts this out.
Get it,
it is a fun album,
with a few nice surprises on it.
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on 9 October 2012
By the late 1980s, the once sacrosanct Bob Dylan had reached the lowest point of his career. During the mid 1960s, he was untouchable, a critical darling, and on a creative roll that has not been seen since. Things had changed drastically in twenty years. By the end of the 1980s, before the release of OH MERCY, many people thought he finally gave up the ghost creatively. While in some respects Dylan's 80s material is unjustly crucified, in other respects the critical assault was totally accurate about how bad he really got during that decade.

DOWN IN THE GROOVE is one of the prime examples of how badly Dylan's art had decayed. DOWN bears the dubious distinction as being the worst studio album in Dylan's catalogue. While Columbia's revenge album DYLAN from 1973 is arguably worst, at least Dylan didn't sanction that release. This album, however, is truly the bottom of the barrel. Dylan lost all artistic direction during this era of his career.

Just for a little context, by 1988 a lot of people had lost faith in Dylan. He hadn't released a decent record in years. Critics and fans overall found EB, his album from 1985, guilty of glitzy production and bad, dated arrangements, a consensus that has only grown stronger in the ensuing (though for my money, EB is as good as anything he's recorded post 1975). Critics panned his 1986 album, KNOCKED OUT LOADED, which barely dented the charts . In 1987, he started in a movie that was so bad it was never released stateside ("Hearts of Fire"), though the soundtrack had some decent songs. That same year, he did a notoriously bad tour with the Grateful Dead. Then in 1988, he released this dismal album. Things were looking pretty bleak for the Dylan faithful.

DOWN IN THE GROOVE is something of a sequel to the other critically reviled studio record Dylan released two years earlier, the aforementioned KNOCKED OUT LOADED. Unlike KOL, DOWN never raises above mediocrity. If anything, DOWN proves that KOL's methodology was not random. KOL pulled songs from several different recording sessions spread out over several years, with each track having a different backing band and filled with collaborators. The only real difference in this regard is DOWN's recording sessions were closer together, but still spread out with different backing bands.

DOWN, unlike its predecessor KOL, which had a number of highlights, is almost entirely bad. KOL has a number of songs that are just engaging, even though there are a couple that are flat out bad. While nothing on DOWN matches the horror of the worst moments of KOL, almost nothing on DOWN reaches the high, or even the enjoyable, moments on KOL either.

DOWN is just filled with simplistic, generic music and obscure covers from Dylan's life. Mostly, though, these covers are uninspiring and forgettable. The first half of the album fares the worst, filled with boring, generic arrangments that are never grating on the ears, but also never truly memorable. The second half plays better than the first half, with a few nice tracks sprinkled throughout. The entire album is filled with boring, generic synths, guitars, drums, and basic, run of the mill instrumentation.

There are only two Dylan originals here. "Death is not the End," an INFIDELS outtake, is very simple and a mildly pleasant song, though never one of my favorite. The song is a 1983 recording with some backup vocals overdubbed in 1988. "Had a Dream About You Baby," like the rest of the album, has that distasteful 1980s aura of Dylan being truly out of ideas. First recorded and released for the "Hearts of Fire" soundtrack, Dylan used an alternate recording for DOWN.

The other two Dylan songs, cowritten with Robert Hunter, The Grateful Dead's official lyricist, are "Silvio" and "Ugliest Girl in the World." Brent Mydland, Weir, and Garcia do backup vocals on "Silvio," easily the best song on the album. "Ugliest Girl in the World," like most novelity tracks, may be funny the first couple of times but there's nothing to return too. "Ugliest Girl" isn't even that funny to begin with, and sounds so bad that maybe even the Dead rejected it.

Despite how damning this review is, there are some bright spots to DOWN. For one, "Shenendoah" ranks among his best interpretations of traditional songs he ever recorded. "Rank Strangers to Me" is a nice little number. "Let's Stick Together" sounds like a companion to KOL's "You Wanna Ramble," if not nearly as memorable.

What's really sad is while DOWN sounds truly uninspired, there are several songs recorded during this era which would not only strengthen the album, but redeem it from being truly despicable to at least a "below average" Dylan album, a step up, in this instance. There are a number of outtakes that would change the entire record. "The Usual" and "Night After Night," both appearing on the "Hearts of Fire" soundtrack, are pretty good songs, better than eight of the ten songs on this record. "Who Loves You More", a fantastic outtake from EB, would have fit in well here, as would the other EB outtake "Freedom For the Stallion." "Important Words", which was released accidentally on the Argentina version of DOWN, was set to be released but was removed, and would have assisted the record.

The real sadness, to me anyway, is the three best songs Dylan recorded during 1986-1987 are almost wholly unknown to the general record buying public, and all three should have been on here. The first is "Band of the Hand," a 1986 song which appears on a soundtrack to the movie of the same name. The song recalls SHOT OF LOVE's "Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar," is one of the most hard-rocking, memorable songs Dylan wrote in the last thirty five years. It should not be consigned to a forgotten soundtrack to a forgotten movie. The second song is the very obscure "Hearts of Fire" outtake "To Fall In Love With You," a five minute gut wrenching work that is better than anything on DOWN or KOL, with maybe the exception of "Brownsville Girl." That song ranks among Dylan's best unreleased material. The third outtake is the Solomon Burke cover "Sidewalks, Fences, and Walls", an outtake that began circulating in February 2007. It blows KOL and DOWN covers out of the water.

Ultimately, DOWN shows us that even our heroes are only human after all. While Dylan purposefully designed the 1970 release SELF-PORTRAIT as a dovetail to get his radical fans off his back, by 1988, it's clear that he's simply running out of steam. With Dylan flooding the market with so many subpar records and products, it's clear he had no audience he needed to shed anyway, because by 1988 a lot of people stopped caring about Dylan. While nothing is absolutely horrible about DOWN, there is hardly anything good to say, which is a shocking statement in and of itself about a Dylan album.

This is a depressing album. A really depressing album. How the mighty have fallen.
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This 1988 album, the twenty-fifth studio release from icon Bob Dylan, is the third in a trilogy of what I have always regarded as the worst albums of his career. The preceding `Empire Burlesque' and `Knocked out Loaded' were uninspiring enough, but this finds Dylan at his worst. Dylan was great when he had something to say, but here he has nothing to say, nothing to react against. He is totally uninspired, something that is illustrated by the inclusion of so many covers on the album. Obviously he was not inspired enough to write many songs for the album. And even worse, in his singing and the production Dylan sounds totally disinterested. On his debut album and even on `Self Portrait', he showed that he could make masterful reinterpretations of other people's songs, twisting them to suit his limitations and producing something new and interesting, but here he sounds bored and seems to be just going through the motions. The production doesn't help, for the first time Dylan's voice sounds ragged and croaky - it would be used to good effect on later albums but here the producer doesn't know what to do with it and in places it sounds painful. Especially on his version of the Hank Snow classic `Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)', which has potential to be the best song on the album, but Dylan's croakings make it a torture to listen to. Contrast this with the following year's masterpiece, `Oh Mercy', in which not only does Dylan find his writing muse but Danny Lanois manages to use the croak to great and moving effect. In the shadow of its mighty successor, `Down In The Groove' fails to shine, and indeed the contrast only highlights it's many shortcomings.

Most of Dylan's poor albums fail because they are uninteresting rather than actually being bad. But I have to say that, along with Empire Burlesque', this is one of the few actually bad albums in Dylan' canon. One to avoid, one star only.
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