Since Bob Dylan turns 70 next week, and countless blogs and magazines have been having tributes and lists,(Rolling Stone recently ranked “The 70 Greatest Dylan Songs”) I’ve decided to look take a look at Dylan’s latter-day career. Almost every single acclaimed album since 1975 (in one way or another) has been ranked according to “his best since ‘Blood on the Tracks'”.
Slow Train Coming
Slow Train Coming receives a fair of criticism for being Dylan’s first “Christian Album”. I admit to having only listened to “Gotta Serve Somebody” from this album as it was included on The Essential Bob Dylan. When you listen to Dylan, preaching isn’t necessarily something you want to hear.
U2’s Bono has often been quote as suggested that his favorite songwriters are either running towards God or running away from God. Bono surely must have been listening to “Slow Train Coming”, especially “I Believe in You” a hymn to the Almighty disguised as a love song. Surely, this must have been a template for many U2 songs in the same vein such as “Mysterious Ways”. Dylan, of course had spent a good deal of years running away from God, even as he occasionally used the Bible as a source of literary inspiration.
On Slow Train Coming, the Bible is the main source of inspiration, but the surrealistic imagery from “Gates of Eden” is replaced by taught evangelical lyrics. It also retains quite a bit of the anger old, just with a new vision. that Still, there’s plenty of good songs to be found throughout the album. “Slow Train” awakens the ghost and apocalyptic visions of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. It’s just more specific in its targets and also denounces secular science and world issues- “I don’t care about economy, I don’t care about astronomy”. He’s just worried about his love ones “turning into puppets”.
Slow Train isn’t all fire an brimstone though. There’s some humor throughout, particularly on “Man Gave Names To All the Animals” which finds man giving monikers to different animals based on their attributes. Dylan’s famous non-verbal “ahhhhh” returns in this song as well. It’s not scornful as in “Like a Rolling Stone”, but rather enlightened – “ah, I think I’ll call it a bear”.
Slow Train Coming also boasts a rather bluesy feel to it due to Jerry Wexler’s production, and there’s some great guitar work courtesy of Mark Knopfler. Musically, it kind undercuts some of Dylan’s lyrics, which depending on your point of view, may or may not be a goo thing.