At the end of March, in a control room at New York’s Power Station recording studio, Bob Dylan wrapped up the most explosive album of his recent career. Gone are the overt religious preoccupations of his last four LPs, along with the sometimes perfunctory approach to record making that has bedeviled his work since the Seventies. Instead the as-yet-untitled new album, masterfully mixed by Arthur Baker, reveals Dylan — once again — as one of the premier rockers of his generation.
It was one o’clock in the morning when Baker began setting up the album’s ten tracks for final playback. Dylan — wearing biker boots, jeans and a cloth vest over a Big Country T-shirt — and two black female singers had been huddled together, running through soul-tinged renditions of tunes like “Over the Rainbow,” “My Guy” and even the ancient “My Echo and Me,” accompanied by Dylan’s acoustic guitar. Then Baker cued up the tapes, and the room was suddenly shaken by the sound of thundering drums, nasty guitar riffs and a voice that hasn’t sounded so wildly impassioned since the epochal “Please Crawl out Your Window” twenty years ago. After the opener, “Tight Connection,” the tracks only build in intensity: from the roiling, horn-driven “Clean Cut Kid,” first cut by the Textones; through the angry, almost spittle-flecked “The Real You at Last”; to the album’s fire-breathing high point, “When the Night Comes Falling.”
Although there are some solid ballads (“I’ll Remember You” and “Emotionally Yours”) and even a harp-and-guitar beauty called “Dark Eyes,” the orientation of Dylan’s latest album, due out in May, is obvious: this is a roaring, full-bore rock & roll record that should occasion a substantial reevaluation of Dylan’s place in the Eighties.
The LP was recorded mostly in Los Angeles with an eclectic group of musicians, including rhythm aces Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Jim Keltner, guitarists Mick Taylor and Al Kooper (Dylan also takes several leads) and Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. For the first time in his career, Dylan produced the album himself. “When I started out, I was told you had to have this guy, the producer, in the studio,” he said, sipping from a bottle of Mount Gay rum and firing up a Kool. “This time I decided to do it my way.” That meant cutting one song at a time — he laid down about twenty altogether — and only when he felt ready. The tracks were then taken to Baker, who whomped up a massive drum sound, enhanced the screaming-guitar quotient considerably and added occasional tasteful touches of synthesized French horn and glockenspiel. What they’ve come up with is an LP that is unlike any other Dylan’s ever recorded — yet is still quintessentially Dylan. Asked if he’s finally gone modern, Bob just grinned. “What do I know about modern?” he asks innocently. “I still listen to Charley Patton records.”
This story is from the May 9th, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.