Picks and Pans Review: Down in the Groove

updated 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bob Dylan

How the mighty have fallen. Ever think you'd live to see a Dylan album on which the bard of the '60s wrote less than half the songs himself? The fraction would be a lot smaller if we didn't generously factor in two collaborations here with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Maybe we should have seen it coming years ago when Dylan started dropping hints in the press that he admired Dire Straits and wouldn't mind writing a few songs with Mark Knopfler. When someone as fiercely original as Dylan reaches out like that, it's clearly a desperate cry for help. By now, with Down in the Groove, the creative cupboard seems completely bare. No fresh ideas, no good songs, amateurish arrangements, bad singing—this baby's got it all. It should be retitled Down in the Mouth. Insist on looking for bright spots in this morass? Okay, his singing isn't too bad on Sally Sue Brown. The rest of the time, he sounds like someone with a hangover trying to polish brass with his breath. Other reasons to be not quite despondent: Silvio, co-written by Dylan and Hunter, is fairly, uh, sprightly, and Had a Dream About You, Baby moves right along. But let's face facts. If Dylan's caterwauling weren't so instantly recognizable, every A&R man in the country would delight in rejecting the first two songs on this album, covers of Let's Stick Together and When Did You Leave Heaven. Good thing the man is a legend. At least, he was. It's been precipitously downhill since Blood on the Tracks in 1975, and even that was an aberration in a still longer decline. There's a sense of calling-in-all-the-chits struggle about the album. But even bringing all the king's men (Eric Clapton, Full Force, Mark Knopfler, Mitchell Froom, etc.) into the studio for Down in the Groove couldn't put the fractured musical shell that is Dylan back together again. (Columbia)

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