Empire Burlesque is one of the stranger albums in Dylan’s career. It’s full of some great songs, but it’s hard to listen to because of the glossy production. It’s clearly the product of its time, cementing it to the mid-1980s. It’s one the most star-studded album of Dylan’s career with numerous guests including reggae rhythm legends Sly & Robbie, Mike Campbell and Howie Epstein of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and Ronnie Wood an Mick Taylor of The Rolling Stones.
But don’t let the awful cover and production fool you. There are some real gems here – “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love”, “Something’s Burning Baby”, and the stand-out final track, “Dark Eyes”. Underneath the glossy sheen of the album, Dylan is fine spirits throughout whether he’s spitting out venom in “Seeing You The Real You At Last”, or lamenting the trials of a Vietnam-Vet on “Clean Cut Kid”. “I’ll Remember You” is one of his most heartfelt ballads since Desire. The vicious “When The Night Comes Falling From the Sky” loses it some of its lyrical power with its thick groove, and odd synthesizers fills.
“Dark Eyes” is without a doubt the best song on the album. In an album filled with big production, it ends with Dylan only accompanied by guitar and harmonica. It’s full on folk, and Dylan gives one of the best vocal performances of the 80s. It’s a nakedly stark song. Is this a nod to “Desolation Row” which was the only acoustic song on the electric-fueled “Highway 61”. You never know with Dylan.