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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 25 February 2003
I came to listen to 'Desire' with no previous knowledge of Bob
Dylan's music. Of course, I had heard of him and was aware that he had written a number of classic songs, but I had never heard his music.
Anyway, 'Desire' is now one of the best albums in my collection, and is unfairly overshadowed by 1975's 'Blood on the Tracks', the second Dylan album I heard.
'Desire' features some original violin from Scarlet Rivera, and haunting harmonies from country singer Emmylou Harris. But it is Dylan's songs that stand out. He certainly does not have the most conventional of voices, but he works around this and produces a stellar collection of songs - I wouldn't want it any other way.
"Hurricane" and "Joey" tell of gangster land and murders, both apparently true stories and both told with Dylan's opinions (he strenuously protests boxer Hurricane Carter's innocence after he was accused of a triple murder back in the 1960s) in mind. "Mozambique" and "Oh, Sister" are both highly pleasant songs and highlights, but they aren't as powerful or immediately awe-inspiring as the rest of the material.
"One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)" is haunting and sounds mildly Eastern, with great harmonies from Emmylou Harris. "Black Diamond Bay" is upbeat and breathlessly tells a story set in Greece, while the Latin-flavoured "Romance in Durango" shows how diverse Bob Dylan can be.
"Isis" is a major highlight of the record, with some mystical imagery and a lingering melody. Finally, "Sara" features some of Dylan's most tuneful vocals and is a heartfelt ode to his wife, whom he separated before the making of 'Desire'. The album also carries a gypsy vibe, in part thanks to the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975, a travelling medicine show with a number of highly regarded musicians including Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
'Desire' is certainly one of Bob Dylan's greatest records and just as good, if not better, than 'Blood on the Tracks'.
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This album does not sit alongside "Blood On The Tracks" in my opinion. I don`t look forward to every song, whilst regretting the fact the last one has finished, like I do with that (apart from "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts", but that is more because I`m not sure it "fits", rather than any dislike of the song on my part). It`s not a very fair comparison though, as "Blood On The Tracks" really is one of music`s true masterpieces.

What that doesn`t have though, is the surreal majesty of "Isis" - a throwback to some of the almost comedic offerings from Dylan`s earlier work. It has some very funny moments. "Isis" describes a physical, spiritual and emotional voyage, far too complicated and full of seeming non sequiturs to be considered a love story. You really can`t predict what Dylan will sing about next - Pyramids encased in ice, the world`s biggest necklace, or staying with his woman, turquoise, silver and gold...outstanding fun, verging on Dadaism, and as good as music gets for me. Love the violin too. I am always shocked when my wife doesn`t seem as happy as I am when listening to it!

So to the album closer "Sara", which is very powerful stuff, matching "If You See Her, Say Hello" for genuine emotion. I don`t think anyone has better sang of the feelings of regret after a failed relationship; everyone knows how it feels, but no one can convey it as well. It wouldn`t have fitted thematically onto "Blood On The Tracks", as it is so intense and direct (the tracks from that album which have been perceived to be broadly about the same subject - wife Sara - also describe other relationships and events).

I used to think "Hurricane" was the best song on here, and I still think it`s great - whether Dylan`s spin on the (in)justice dealt to Rubin Carter is accurate or not, it`s a cracking opener. "Joey" is a fine song, but at eleven minutes is perhaps a touch lengthy, whereas the slower pacing of "Oh Sister" is spot on. "Black Diamond Bay" is worth an honourable mention, certainly, as is "One More Cup of Coffee", a song I first heard played by the White Stripes; their version is even more bleak. I can probably live without "Mozambique"...ultimately, nothing stands out to me as strongly as "Isis" and "Sara" though, they are brilliant.
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on 22 January 2003
I find it hard to fault this album. Slide it into your CD player, and press play. The sublime guitar-strums start, and begin to speed up. The experience has begun. The drums cut in, then the gentle violin, and then Dylan : "Pistol shots ring out in a bar-room night..." Cymbals crash, and Bob's voice grows in urgency, a storyteller singing the plaintive song of protest. "If you're black, you might as well not show up on the street, unless you wanna draw the heat..." The beat, and the indignancy, grow until the triumphant yet pleadingly desperate ending - "It won't be over until they clear his name, and give him back the time he's done..." Enough for a whole album, but eight more blistering tracks await... A song about marriage, and one which is steeped in mystery. The fifth of May was the traditional festival of the goddess Isis across the Roman Empire. Bob is not unaware of this, and weaves this into his winding tale... Imagery marries the feeling in his voice to create a sound that washes over you. The sliding bass in Mozambique creates the background for the playful lyrics and feel to the third song. The raw feel to One More Cup of Coffee, and the exquisite rise and fall of the lead singing and backing by Emmylou Harris, added to the laid-back feel of the session, build to a peak, then fall to an oasis of calm... "And your pleasure knows no limits - your voice is like a meadow-lark, but your voice is like an ocean - mysterious and dark..." Oh Sister comes next. "Do a protest song" cried someone when he did this on the 1975 tour. In a way this is a protest - a cry for honesty and tenderness. The violin screams for rebirth, as do the lyrics. The timing on this song is immaculate. And then Joey. A song that begins so languidly... "Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the year of who knows when. Opened up his eyes to the tune of an accordion" amd it carries on in the same languorous tone. One of Dylan's greatest prickly puns follows - "'What time is it?' said the judge to Joey when they met. 'Five to ten,' said Joey. The judge says, 'That's exactly what you get.'" He really loves this guy. Soon we arrive at Romance in Durango - a cheery number with a sunny banjo-like opening and a great evocative lyric beginning - "Hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun..." Plenty of Spanish and unhurried, well-chosen lyrics later, it's time to slide seamlessly into Black Diamond Bay - the piece with the harmonica played in such a human way that vocals are almost bypassed, and then words that are sewn so wholesomely that the join is barely noticed. The Soviet Ambassador sits comfortably with a loser in a gambling room, and Dylan goes from Spanish to French. So on to Sara - a surprisingly honest song written to Bob's wife - for whom he admits he also wrote Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Lament and yet also celebration, contemplation yet also off-the-cuff emotion, this is a beautifully complex and hauntingly simple song which (again!) is worth the fee on its own. BUY THIS ALBUM. THEN GET YOUR FRIENDS TO GO AND BUY IT. THEN BUY IT FOR THOSE FRIENDS WHO DON'T WANT TO BUY IT. THEN LISTEN TO IT. A LOT. It really will make you a happier person. I promise.
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on 17 October 2008
I have to admit that I am not a great Dylan fan. I adore Jimi Hendrix version of 'All Along the Watchtower' and Nina Simone's version of 'I Shall Be Released'. Yet when I listen to 'Desire' I can suddenly suspend my previous preconceptions and understand some of Dylan's appeal. Starting off with 'Hurricane', a superb indictement of judicial Racism, with lyrics which really hit their target. The rest of the album concerns some far more personal material, such as the last track 'Sara'concerning his wife whom he was on the point of divorcing, a beautifully direct love song, with sublime lyrics. The rest of the tracks seem to dwell on unfufilled love 'One More Cup of Cofee' or 'Mozambique' or to tales about various rough diamonds who seem to be bordering on outlaw existence, such as 'Joey' or 'Isis'. For someone who doesn't normally get Dylan I have to admit that this is one of my favourite 'back from the pubs 'albums, to be played loud with headphones after a few drinks. Whether you normally dig or simply don't get Dylan's appeal, this album shows that Dylan ploughs his own unique course through Rock music. And it is hard not to respect him for it.
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on 29 June 2009
I came to Bob Dylan back in 1975 through the opening track on this album, the superb song 'Hurricane' when radio stations were playing it as his new single. I must admit however, that it was quite a few years after before I purchased the album, although I had picked up other recordings such as Bringing It All Back Home, Street Legal, Blood On The Tracks and Greatest Hits Vol 2. The main reason for this lack of urgency was that a friend had provided me with a copy recording. Since then, this album has joined the exhaulted ranks of recordings that I have deemed worthy of purchasing in all 3 formats over the years (Cassette, LP and now CD)

Most Dylan fans will quite rightly cite Blood on The Tracks as his best ever album, and it is indeed an all time classic and I for one cannot really argue, but I do not like to follow the herd. Desire for me is a more uplifting offering as opposed to Dylans emotional lows on Blood On The Tracks. The opening song Hurricane is the story of Rubin Carter, a professional boxer framed for a triple murder. Dylan became involved in Carters struggle for a pardon, hence the song. (A film was later released about the story). Next up we have Isis, a wonderful story of buried treasure and deceit. Mozambique is a simple feel good song. One More Cup of Coffee and Oh Sister are love stories. Then we have the epic Joey, a tale outlining the life, imprisonment and death of a once famous mobster. Romance in Durango a story of escape and death in Mexico in the vien of a Marty Robins type tale. Then there is the wonderful up tempo saga of life and disaster as only Dylan can tell it in Black Diamond Bay. Finally the album closes with a song of love to his then wife Sara (Simply called Sara).

I wouldn't normally go through a recording track by track when reviewing, but as each and every track is of the quality that we find on Desire, what to choose and what to ignore is an impossible task. If you wish to experience Dylan during what for me was his peak, this is essential listening. Many will argue that he composed and released his best material in the early to mid 1960s, but for me the early to mid 1970s were of equal greatness. I have always advocated that Dylans career has a number of seperate periods all good in their own seperate way and all different. For me it will always be from 65 through to 79 that saw him reach his prime. (Bringing it all Back Home to Slow Train Coming). There have been some highs since, but the period when Desire was released is for me his golden period.
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Released in January 1976, `Desire' is the third album of Dylan's great mid-1970s trio, following up on 1974's `Planet Waves' and 1975's career-defining `Blood on the Tracks'.

On its 1976 release, `Desire' became best known for its full-on opening track `Hurricane', protesting the innocence of boxer `Hurricane' Rubin Carter of a triple night-time murder in NJ. Dylan's stand became controversial because of Carter's conviction of the murders by unanimous jury verdict: many felt Dylan had sanitised Carter, who had previous convictions for multiple assaults with violence and done jail time. Carter was eventually pardoned due to the never-explained recantation of a key witness, but suspicions of guilt remained.

`Joey' is another 10-minute song in similar vein, lionising mafia gangster Joey Gallo who was gunned down in New York City in April 1972 on his 43rd birthday, less than a year after his release from jail.

The rest of the songs on `Desire' are a mixed bunch making the album something of an oddity. With the notable exception of the closer `Sara' (for many fans, Dylan's greatest ever poetic elegy) these songs are less personal than those on PW or BoTT. Narrative story-telling combines with the witty and whimsical on `Mozambique!', `Romance in Durango' (on which Bob sings convincingly in Spanish) and `Black Diamond Bay'. The lyrical oddity of the songs might be because most were co-written with Jacques Levy. The album also has a unique sound not replicated on Dylan's other work due to the dominance of Scarlet Rivera's violin as lead instrument on many numbers, and backing vocals from Emmylou Harris on most.

Many fans consider `Desire' to be Dylan's last great album, due to his diminished output in the 1980s following `Street Legal'. However, Dylan's late-career renaissance beginning with the Grammy winner `Time out of Mind', the follow-on `Love and Theft' and the truly great `Modern Times' produced another high-wave crest in the long and eventful career of this genre-defining writer and musician. `Desire', though something of an oddity, remains a very good album with some fine and enduring songs.
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on 8 October 2014
Skipping between folk-rock, eastern dirges, and epic narratives, 1976's Desire is certainly an untypical album in Bob Dylan's voluminous back catalogue. That could be because it is a highly collaborative effort, on which all but two of its 9 songs are co-written by Jacques Levy, an associate of The Byrds and a musical theatre director; Scarlet Rivera's violin is predominant in the mix on many tracks, and a young Emmylou Harris can often be heard proving lilting backing vocals. There is certainly some dissension about its residual value. As Nigel Williamson argues in his reference book The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan (Rough Guides Reference Titles): "There are two schools of thought about Desire. One holds that it is an overlooked masterpiece, unfairly eclipsed by following so hard on the heels of the dazzling Blood On The Tracks. The other is that it's an oddly unsatisfying follow-up, made too soon afterwards, which ultimately sounds overwrought and contrived."

The former view is strongly supported by the theatrical opener 'Hurricane' - a flamboyant, if controversial, protestation of the innocence of boxer 'Hurricane' Rubin Carter who had been convicted for a triple murder - and the two deeply-felt songs about his marriage: the self-explanatory 'Sara'; and the long allegorical song 'Isis'. But the overlong 'Joey' - an 11 minute, musically moribund, morally ambiguous tribute to the self-educated mafia boss Joey Gallo - suggests that the latter perception isn't wholly wrong either.
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VINE VOICEon 11 July 2001
I bought Desire in a state of fever pitch excitement, having been blown away by Hurricane on Radio Luxembourg (unbleeped version!)
Having heard the whole album, I came to the conclusion that Dylan was relaxing at long last and putting that legendary imagination to startling use with some sparkling and atmospheric narratives like Romance in Durango (you can just imagine yourself in Mexico), Isis, Joey (tribute to a dead gangster, no less!) and the truly wonderful story related in Black Diamond Bay.
Dylan sounds lyrically mature and right at his peak here. An extra dimension is added by clever use of instrumentation, notably Scarlett Riviera's violin.
That said, this collection also includes the crackling tension of Sara. Stark simplicity of guitar and voice was all this song needed.
If you're sold on Dylan's folky roots or country period, this is ideal mid-period Dylan to plot the course of his development.
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on 13 January 2017
My favourite Bob Dylan album along with "Bringing it all back home", "Times they are a-changing" and "Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
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These tracks aren't as anthemic or immediately accessible as some of Bob Dylan's more familiar classics, so it takes some time for them to sink in. Hurricane is a torrent of a song in what sounds to me a stream-of-consciousness style, whilst Isis is likewise dense and profound, quite an epic with vivid imagery.

Mozambique has a lovely melody and a lilting tropical beat, and is the only song here that exudes joy and happiness. Closest to his earlier folk style, Oh Sister is introspective, heartfelt and moving. Romance In Durango is the tragic story of an outlaw fleeing from the law but not making it and saying his farewells to his wife and child - it has a beautiful soaring Spanish chorus and a vaguely Latin flavour.

Black Diamond Bay is a powerful and intense rock ballad whilst the autobiographical Sara makes reference to Dylan's earlier song Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands; it's a flowing conversational ballad with lots of charm. The musical and lyrical variety on Desire ensures a captivating listening experience. I think this album holds up well in Dylan's great body of work. Perhaps not one of his top 5 albums, but a work of enduring value containing at least four classic songs.
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