TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 October 2013
Obviously this is a masterpiece. Its riches are inexhaustable, and no review could do them justice (in reason or rhyme), so here instead are a few random thoughts about just five lines from its lyrics.
"I've got a poison headache, but I feel alright."
By early 1966, Dylan was clearly on 'a lot of medicine' (as he rather charmingly put it at the time) to keep going. On Blonde on Blonde he sounds desperately tired and strung out, blurry, yet at the same time utterly wired and alert. You can hear the drugs. And the album is drenched in drugs references, from the single-entendre chorus of 'Rainy Day Women' to the arcane 1960s drugs slang that permeates just about every song. But, for all this, it's not a 'druggy' record. The drugs are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, that end being the transcendence Dylan had sought from his Tambourine Man the year before. The quest for transcendence is a perennial Dylan theme, and he never gets closer to it than here on Blonde on Blonde.
"Oh, I didn't know that!"
There's so much buried tresure hidden in Blonde on Blonde; so many sly and artful allusions to the past, so many shrewd borrowings. It's a record you can listen to for decades until, one day, a phrase wll pop out at you from a crackly old 1930s blues song and suddenly a whole new dimension of meaning opens up in Dylan's lyrics. I won't spoil your fun by giving you any clues. Just watch out for those railroad men - they'll drink up your blood like wine.
"We see this empty cage now corrode"
By 1965 Dylan had widened the focus of his protest singing into huge existential broadsides against the 'empty cage' of bourgeois consumerist America. Songs like 'It's Alright Ma' and 'Desolation Row' mined the final surreal nuggets from Dylan's vein of societal protest. By Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's lyrical concerns had rusted down towards a bleary analysis of the toxic effects of this broken society upon the individuals living within it. The songs here are thus more interpersonal and intimate than on the previous two albums, and delivered from within the world's chaos rather than soaring imperiously above it; the worldview, while no less bleak than before, is implied, never explicit, and is maybe all the more corrosive as a result.
"Early in the morning"
The archetypal blues lyric, and the phrase with which Dylan starts 'Obviously Five Believers'. Consciously. Dylan has shown utter mastery of the blues form throughout his career, but nowhere more so than here. Anyone who says white boys can't sing the blues should listen to Blonde on Blonde. Apart from anything else, the album is a blues masterpiece.
"Ain't it just like the night?"
Well, yes it is. Blonde on Blonde is OF the night, ABOUT the night, FROM the night, FOR the night and JUST LIKE the night. Most of the recording took place way into the small hours, often with Dylan still honing his lyrics in the studio long after midnight while his band played cards until, by 3 or 4 in the morning, it was finally time for a take. It shows. The playing is tight but loose, like you'd find late-on in a good jazz club: the 'thin, wild mercury sound' that Dylan never quite recaptured. Lyrically, too, all the real action takes place after hours, amidst the freaks and pimps and damaged socialites that only come out after dark. Listen to it late at night and you'll hear the darkness.
If you've bothered reading this far, chances are you're a longtime Dylanite who already owns this. If you aren't, and you don't.. well, you don't need me to tell you what you need to do.