Disappointing Albums, Music 51 disappointing albums: ‘Nashville Skyline’ by Bob Dylan By Tony Thompson | April 2, 2020 | What is this shit? Oh, sorry wrong album. Yes, the obvious candidate for a disappointing Dylan album is Self Portrait, the Grand Wizard of all Disappointing Records, an album so innately disappointing so as to become a genre unto itself i.e. “This is clearly Nicky Minaj’s Self Portrait”. The problem is that Self Portrait isn’t disappointing at all. It’s just not a very good album. Nashville Skyline is, or at least once was, disappointing in a far more traditional way. But, you say, it’s a rock solid classic. What’s it doing on your damn list? Think about this for a second. You are 18 years old in 1969. Three years earlier, you heard Blonde on Blonde on your best friend’s parents hi-fi while they were entertaining friends upstairs. Your mind was blown by it, shattered completely. You saw Bob when he came through town with the Hawks. Dorky kids in Pete Seeger caps booed when the band came out. You cheered. Fuck folk music, fuck politics. Dylan is bigger than all of it. He’s a poet with an electric guitar, a sonic beatnik. A little while later John Wesley Harding appeared. It doesn’t have quite the same effect but it was still a cool record filled with mysterious lyrics. The lyrics are dull, cliched, and predictable. They work well enough in the context but if I was his English teacher, I’d say, “Bob is capable of better work”. You get ink all over your fingers reading and rereading a new magazine called Rolling Stone that reports Bob is recording in Nashville again. Blonde on Blonde was recorded in Nashville. ‘Street Fighting Man’ is on the radio and something that looks like a revolution has gone down in Chicago the previous summer. You’ve been going to anti war rallies and you’re reading Che Guevara. The world that your parents grew up in is changing. Kids are marching all over the planet. This is revolution and all that’s left is for Dylan to put it all down in an album that will blow everything the Stones, The Beatles, and everyone else has ever done. Blonde on Blonde was a warning shot, this is going to be big one. But it isn’t. It sounds like that Charlie Rich album that your dad bought the same day and, lo and behold, it has the same musicians listed on the back of the album. You want Bob to explain the revolution. Instead you get a duet with Johnny Cash of all people and a lush sex song called ‘Lay Lady Lay’. It’s 28 minutes of bullshit. You put it away, forget about Dylan completely until your kids give you a CD of his ‘comeback’ album Oh Mercy for Christmas 20 years later, and you play it to death in the Audi on the way to the office every morning. Did this happen? Who knows, but it isn’t hard to imagine. I wouldn’t have thanked The Clash for a synth driven dance album in 1981 and today’s King Gizzard fans would probably be surprised if the band did a thrash metal album. Wait a minute… There are many different sorts of Dylan freaks. I’m part of a fairly standard group that can’t get past Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. I have all of his other albums and I love some of them dearly but, for me, there is nothing like those three in rock and roll. They are mystical records, there’s no other word. Nashville Skyline isn’t mystical at all and is thus slightly disappointing. Dylan’s journey from the great motorcycle crash of ’66 to Studio One is an old story that I won’t repeat here. We’ve all heard it a million times. He’s a restless artist who wasn’t comfortable with the “voice of a generation” label etc. He always loved country music. Yeah, sure, who didn’t? I guess I just wonder where all of that imaginative energy that produced something like ‘Visions of Johanna’ went. Is anyone else struck by the title of the fourth track on Nashville Skyline? ‘I Threw It All Away’. It’s a song he probably hoped Elvis would record or something, but it’s an intriguing title all the same. Why is it disappointing? The lyrics are dull, cliched, and predictable. They work well enough in the context but if I was his English teacher, I’d say, “Bob is capable of better work”. There’s no depth to any of the songs. I can hear you howling in protest that ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You’ is a masterpiece. Sure, if you’re Jimmy Webb, but this is the guy who wrote ‘Desolation Row’. His “new” voice is often commented on. It sounds a bit hokey in retrospect and doesn’t convince me. If it was his new voice, it became his old voice pretty quickly and I don’t much like gimmicks. Why should you hear it? Well, it is Nashville Skyline after all, a key album of the late sixties and probably the riskiest choice I have made in this list. Listen to the sheer analogue glory of the sound. It’s a beautiful recording that features the cream of “Nashville cats”. The producer, Bob Johnston, layers the acoustic and gently electric instruments under Dylan’s note perfect delivery of each song. It could have been a disaster. If it really had been a country record of the time, there would have been strings and lots of ‘em. This is country rock in its purest form and a record that will never get old. ‘Tell Me That It isn’t True’ in particular is wonderful song, with an Augie Meyers-style organ sound and lovely changes. Okay, okay, it’s not disappointing. Well, not entirely anyway. For the rest of this series, click here. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Tony Thompson Tony Thompson lives in Melbourne and is the author of Summer of Monsters, a novel about the early life of Mary Shelley.