Of all Bob Dylan's public personae over the past nineteen years, none has more confounded his long-time admirers than his latest incarnation as a born-again Christian. Unveiling his new and obviously heartfelt beliefs on last year's Slow Train Coming, Dylan was a perfect caricature of a Bible-thumping convert, zealously proclaiming that "You either got faith or you got unbelief/And there ain't no neutral ground" and prophesying a day of judgment coming soon, of course "when men will beg God to kill them/And they won't be... Read More
able to die."
Though producers Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett gave Dylan one of the cleanest sounds of his careerand Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler contributed the most lyrical electric guitar lines ever to grace a Dylan albumthe result seemed curiously embalmed: a record bereft of the rhythmic exuberance that has always characterized this artist's best work. The songs themselves were graceless and chilly in their self-righteous certitude. Bob Dylan, whose search for modern moral connections once summed up an entire generation, had found the Answer: "Repent, for the end is near."
This ancient wheeze long ago failed the simple test of time, and the clunky fervor with which Dylan advanced it only made him sound ridiculous. Abandoning the greatest of human religious quests the intellectual pilgrimage toward personal transcendence Dylan settled for mere religion. His art, which arose out of human complexity and moral ambiguities, was drastically diminished. With a single leap of faith, he plummeted to the level of a spiritual pamphleteer. What made the Gospel According to Bob especially tough to take was his hook-line-and-sinker acceptance of the familiar fundamentalist litany, and his smugness in propounding it. Dylan hadn't simply found Jesus but seemed to imply that he had His home phone number as well.
Saved is a much more aesthetically gratifying LP than its predecessor, particularly because of the hope (mostly musical, I admit) it offers that Dylan may eventually rise above the arid confines of Biblical literalism. Maybe he'll evolve, maybe he'll just walk away. Whichever the case, stagnation has never been his style, and after Saved, there seems precious little left to say about salvation through dogma.
Lyrics aside, Dylan's band is sharper and more spirited than I thought possible after its sluggish playing on Saturday Night Live last year. Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, who performed a mostly metronomic function on Slow Train Coming, has been replaced by rock & roll veteran Jim Keltner, whose controlled yet emphatic cooking covers every base without calling undue attention to itself. As a lead guitarist. Fred Tackett still seems severely limited (either by God or the arrangements), but he's amiably efficient and probably preferable to the departed Knopfler, whose rampant tastiness was ultimately more a dist