Like Paul McCartney before him, Bob Dylan wanted justice for an album that he thought was mixed badly. McCartney has had a few chances to heal Let it Be. Let's hope Bob is happy with Fragments.
As with all these new mix projects there is a new vitality and sharper clarity to the instrumentation. You can hear lots of lovely little musical embellishments whether organ, guitar, pedal steel or harmonica previously lost in Lanois’ swampy mix.
Best of all is Dylan’s vocals. This is Bob Dylan’s voice at its very best. This is where he is not a bad voice but the best voice. This is where it is a stunning instrument, articulate as the poetry of these songs deserved.
The box is another Bootleg Series extravaganza of goodies. I have returned to being a vinyl buyer but for box sets I am going to always buy the affordable CD to get as many songs as possible. This one is so worth it. Every song is of the sharpest quality.
Yes, perhaps there are fewer different songs to those that made the original Time Out Of Mind but everything here is wonderful. All the alternative takes with their different keys and tempos seem finished and would have been ready to have come off the bench had the final mix selected not been used.
As well as various versions of songs we get an entire live set of the songs which are recorded with some of Dylan’s best bands over the past 25 years, revealing other hues Dylan wanted to throw across the shades of these words.
Fragments of treasure.
My original review:
‘Goodness me!’ is the gold bar in the currency of superlatives that my students use and it aptly describes Bob Dylan's first album of new songs since the tragic Under the Red Sky in 1990. That album was particularly disappointing in the light of the quality of the Daniel Lanois produced Oh Mercy of 1989 and perhaps the omens were already visible when the news broke that that partnership had been reunited.
This is the long awaited follow up, not a carbon copy by any means more a brother with a different personality but the same genes. It is rougher, bluesier and the most wondrous addition is the tinkle of honky tonk piano in the most beautiful places.
Dylan himself has said that the album is about feel rather than thought and performance rather than lyric. There is certainly a grain of truth in that comment and there is no doubt that this album may be less quoted in the more academic studies of Dylan's cannon.
However, it seems to me that that kind of comment is relative. The writing of the best literature of the century does bring with it high expectations. Had this been a new Dylan on the block many would have been pretty impressed with the content here.
Yes, the brooding and bleak music does scream to our emotions in it's gentle moody way but there is much here too for the Dylanophile who studies lyrics in Bible Study ways.
"It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there" is perhaps the linchpin phrase of the whole affair. Mortality, heartache and disillusionment spills out like blood on the tracks in a way that will recall the 1973 classic album of that name. For sure Dylan is Love Sick - "I'm sick of love/I wish I'd never met you/I'm sick of love/I'm trying to forget you" - and there seems little doubt that his sickness is with the romantic kind but the she here would seem to represent life itself and Dylan seems to have been jilted by all that he once saw as his lover; the poetry and the musical backdrop are of a man at the very end of his tether. And yet it is not dark yet and Dylan still sees glimpses, tiny and all as they are.
There is a lot of looking back and where in the past life was a jet plane that moved too fast here we have a life that is dragging - "Yesterday everything was going too fast/ Today it's moving too slow (Standing In The Doorway)" - and though the Never Ending Tour has kept Dylan travelling it has only been his feet and not his soul - "I know it looks like I'm moving but I'm standing still". Suicidal stuff which sadly seems to be where the best art comes from but there are still inklings of hope and indeed maybe the candle of the Born Again late 70s and early 80s still flickers - I know the mercy of God must be near (Standing In The Doorway)- But I know that God is my shield/ and he won't lead me astray(Til I Fell In Love With You). I do find it fascinating that when he sang a song around lines like those it was deemed sell out to the only religion deemed uncool but he throws in little traces and no review has mentioned them. If faith kicks in as a refuge in times of trouble perhaps this is a more truely Biblical work than saved.
This is not a 56 year old trying to be a 21 year old. Dylan is not competing with the Gallaghers for the teenage minds of the generation. One of our problems is in thinking he should be. Dylan still fits into the culture of Rock'n Roll, even though this is folk and blues which lived way before Presley. Rock N Roll is now forty years old and getting to that stage where those who are still alive are writing songs about old age. This is a new thing, being old. Certainly this is a mature piece of work and perhaps, as Freewheelin was a classic statement about being 22, this is another classic lesson from the book of growing up and old and the issues that lie therein.
Yes. We thought Bob was old as a 56 year old. I just saw him in November as an 81 year old! Interesting that I am now 5 years older than Dylan was in 1987 and perhaps listening rather differently.