Picks and Pans Review: Under the Red Sky

updated 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bob Dylan

If you're a Dylan loyalist, here's a bit of advice: Don't give up on this one before you give it a good, hard second listen. These aren't even diamonds in the rough that just need a little polishing—they're more like unusually interesting rocks. But at 49, Dylan still puts enough of his soul into his music to warrant close inspection.

As he did on last year's crisp Oh Mercy, Dylan fills his studio lineup card with some of the best talent available, both seasoned (Al Kooper on keyboards) and newly emerging (guitarist Robben Ford). The album's opener, "Wiggle Wiggle," would have been a great push out of the starting blocks if it lasted for more than three minutes or so.

Dylan makes up for the miscue on the next track, the title tune, a vibrant pastiche of most of his styles. Old—er, make that longtime—fans should appreciate songs like "10,000 Men," a tuneful reminder of Dylan's days with the Band, or the gently rocking ' "Handy Dandy," which Dylan sings with bite and spirit, not to mention chord changes similar to those in "Like a Rolling Stone."

There's a dearth of penetrating imagery in this album's lyrics. In the boisterous "Unbelievable," for instance, Bob just kind of shakes his head at the legacy of '80s greed, offering no real insight: "They said this was the land of milk and honey/Now they say it's a land of money." So all right, the guy doesn't seem to have such a way with words anymore. Nostalgia aside, he still produces pop music that's more thoughtful and provocative than all but a few performers'. (Columbia)

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