I recently read Bob Dylan considered Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Frank Zappa to help produce Infidels. Costello would be the most interesting to see at the helm – he might have given Infidels a more folk-style approach. As such, Infidels holds up extremely well in large part due to the addition of Mark Knopfler – whose tasteful production and guitar work are everywhere throughout the album.
For the 80s it was contemporary sound – but it doesn’t hold itself as an 80s album (something that can’t be said of some of his other albums from that era.) Dylan reportedly hired Knopfler, in part because he didn’t know the new production technology. Still though, its an album that has been trimmed of the fat and excess. “Jokerman” might be the most well-known song, but its reggae isn’t not representative of the album. There’s a punch on many songs – “Man of Peace” “Neighborhood Bully” – and Dylan lashes out the lyrics with a renewed vigor not seen since Desire.
Infidels might be Dylan’s first secular album after a trio of Christian inspired albums, but the Bible and its themes are everywhere. Interestingly though, it’s the Old Testament and Judaism that occupies his thoughts. “Jokerman” name-checks Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Sodom and Gommorah. Elsewhere, “Neighborhood Bully” has often been interpreted as Dylan’s support of Israel, due to the inclusion of Israeli historical events. The penultimate song, “I And I” borrows its title from a Rastafarian practice of saying “I and I” when referring to one’s self to include the speaker with the presence of the Almighty in every day situations. Taking this as cue, Dylan uses the song to refer to the Hebrew God, whose name can’t be uttered by the observant. It’s also worth noting that the front cover photograph was taken by Sara Dylan, at a hotel in Jerusalem.
Among critics, Infidels has been seen as something of a lost opportunity for Dylan. The exclusion of “Foot of Pride” and “Blind Willie McTell” has left many shaking their heads for decades. The familiar demo version of “Blind Willie McTell” (though apparently there’s a full-band version that was recorded) while brilliant, probably would have overshadowed the rest of the album’s quality.