After the masterpieces of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, it seems inevitable that Dylan’s follow-up would dip slightly in quality. Blood on the Tracks was a naked emotional affair, and Desire was a wild, gypsy sounding outing – the perfect studio counterpart for the Rolling Thunder Revue. And Street Legal? Parts of it sound like a cross between E-Street Band (there’s saxophones) and a Vegas theme-show (the first appearance of the backing singers).
Lyric-wise the album finds Dylan swimming in similar waters as the past two albums – the break-up of his marriage, and his divorce. He’s looking for new women in his life – even if it’s just for one wild ride as suggested in “New Pony”. “New Pony” is among the grittiest songs Dylan has recorded. Its fierce riff and pounding drums perfectly suit the menacing equestrian/sexual theme of the song. Dylan has written many songs about sex, but “New Pony” is probably his most explicit – it almost makes the listener feel dirty.
If there was ever a song that begged for the acoustic Dylan it would be “No Time to Think”. “No Time to Think” is 1970s Dylan in full protest mood with views on mortality. (In a way, it’s a sort of pre-cursor to the Christian albums, which would shortly follow Street Legal). It’s a dense song – lyrics such as ” You glance through the mirror and there’s eyes staring clear At the back of your head as you drink And there’s no time to think” would have hit harder if it weren’t for the big-band production.
Street Legal finds Dylan at a cross roads. Throughout the album, he’s taken the yearning for lost love as far it can go. It’s not surprising that in the year (1978) when punk rock was at its apex, Dylan would go the opposite route and put out an album full of grandiose arrangements and a full-band. Ultimately, Street Legal can be a rewarding album on its own merits, but unlike Dylan’s best albums, the gems aren’t on the surface.
Together Through Life ranks as one of Dylan’s most fun albums. Gone are the dark observations of Modern Times, and the travelogues of Americana on “Love an Theft”. There are no major statements, it’s just the sound of Dylan and his band tearing through pre-rock and roll blues like only they can do.
Together Through Life is only the second time that Dylan has co-written songs with a collaborator – in this case Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. As such, Dylan seems a little livelier on this album than he has in the past few records. He’s clearly having fun – there’s audible laughs throughout and a cry of, “woo!” near the end of ‘It’s All Good'”. It’s an album where Dylan seems comfortable being Bob Dylan an old man. There’s no ruminations on mortality or a world gone wrong. Instead, Together Through Life is an album almost solely devoted to one of Dylan’s other favorite past-times: women.
Throughout the album he’s scornful (“Forgetful Heart”), hilarious (“My Wife’s Hometown”), and even lustful (“Shake Shake Mama” – which at least musically is one of his best rockers in years). The music on Together Through Life is given a kick by the addition of an accordion, which dominates many of the songs. “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” comes off as something as a straight forward blues number with a Hispanic twinge. While bluesy stomp of “My Wife’s Hometown” borrows its music from Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, Dylan’s version just wants to tell you “that hell’s [his] wife’s hometown”.
The closest that Dylan gets to a major statement on the album is the sarcastic closer, “It’s All Good”. Even from the beginning Dylan has always found a way to take cliched phrases and turn them on their head, and hasn’t done it this good since the 1960s. Dylan sees a world with politicians telling lies, wives leaving their husbands, and buildings. Where the young Dylan might have offered a solution (or at least made us think we could change the world), the Dylan at almost 70 sarcastically declares, “You know what they say man. It’s all good.”