With few exceptions, Shakedown Street, rife with blind intersections, comes across as an artistic dead end. The punch that producer Keith Olsen provided on Terrapin Station, the Grateful Dead’s last LP, has all but vanished here, and Olsen’s successor, the usually reliable Lowell George, offers almost nothing to replace it. You can hear echoes of inventive reverberation and some crosscut grittiness in the percussive “Serengetti,” while the seductive “France” gets off the ground in spots — but two songs make a single, not an album.
Over the years, the Dead have shown a knack for turning even the most undistinguished material into something at least moderately interesting. No more. Both “Good Lovin'” and “All New Minglewood Blues” feature aimless ensemble work and vocals that Bob Weir should never have attempted. Similarly, “Fire on the Mountain” and “Shakedown Street” suffer from too much strain and not enough revving up musically. The disco tinges in the latter merely add to the catastrophe.
And the rest? “I Need a Miracle” sounds like an Englebert Humperdinck reject, Donna Godchaux’ “From the Heart of Me” is as clumsy as its title and “If I Had the World to Give” and “Stagger Lee” don’t even boast instrumental solos to offset their flaccid lyrics. Maybe the band’s energy is still in Egypt, partial payment perhaps for sending King Tut to America.