Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bob Dylan - Infidels

Given Bob Dylan's 34 studio albums, it can be easy to get lost in the deluge. Obviously his classic work, and more recent resurgence, are obvious candidates for your listening time. But between the two is a glut of records that have a variety of responses and reactions from critics and fans alike, and largely offer a hit or miss perspective on the unquestionable genius that is the legend. Still, amongst the noise there are records that are undeniably rewarding and as good, if not better, than some of the man's classic work. Case in point: 1983's Infidels.

We'll admit, the way we stumbled into Infidels was not typical: when The Walkmen referenced the record in a rehearsal-space seeking Craigslist post a couple of years back, we gave it a spin. Still, it didn't quite take. Then, this spring Elvis Costello dropped a solo cover of the album's "License To Kill" during his incendiary uptown performance, and we decided that we had to give the album a fair chance. For whatever reason, this time around, it took.

Produced by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame, Infidels is definitely a record of its time. The production has a lush, early 80's feel, and the presence of Knopfler on guitar is strongly evident throughout. In fact, to ears familiar with Dire Straits' work at the time, this record could easily be a long lost sibling. Nonetheless, the production doesn't manage to overshadow the fact that this is a strong batch of old-school Dylan songs that unquestionably carry their own weight.

Part of that evidence is manifested in the fact that Dylan managed to keep the record from drifting completely into Knopfler's smooth, jazzy world, by hiring Sly & Robbie as the rhythm section, and sticking firmly to his guns with his own old-school piano and guitar playing. In fact, the combination of these elements is part of what makes the record so solid. The juxtaposition of cleanliness with grit gives the record an easy listenability underpinned by a real-world excitement.

However, more than anything, the record just features some truly solid songwriting from one of history's most noted singer-songwriters. The songs are basic in structure, and harken back to old blues and rock and roll, while the lyrics are poetic and clever in the style of Dylan of old. This solid combo serves to create songs that are not only emotionally resonant, but musically accessible. Those two elements are the fundamental building blocks of Dylan's best work, work that should most certainly count Infidels amongst its many members.


Running to Music said...

Interesting that it was produced by Knopfler, you can really hear it in there.

Anonymous said...

"Jokerman" is pretty sweet. it's funny how even the harmonica at the end sounds like it was dipped in gauze. with his vocal, it's like vitriolic easy listening. The piano playing is very Bruce Hornsby to me, but i don't care, the tune is so infectious. I don't know about the rest of the album, though. Perhaps it's better than Don Henley or Dire Straits, but only marginally.