Street Legal (1978)


 
1. Changing of the Guards 2. New Pony 3. No Time to Think 4. Baby Stop Crying 5. Is Your Love in Vain? 6. Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) 7. True Love Tends to Forget 8. We Better Talk This Over 9. Where are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)

 

If there was ever anything consistent about the career of Bob Dylan, it's that he....well.... never really was consistent. You'd probably have to go back to his earliest, folk, acoustic guitar-only albums before you could find a pair of back-to-back albums that were similar in sound and feel. It shouldn't really come as a surprise, then, to hear Dylan going through changes yet again on this release from the late 1970's. This album sounds very similar to a lot of what was being released during this period in time. No, there's no disco here, yet the overall sound is very carefully produced and has a slick-like quality with precision accuracy, plenty of brass and a lot of female backup singers that enhance the tracks.

Many would argue that this slickness was simply too out of character for Bob Dylan, but his hippie audience had grown up. Like himself, they were in their early to mid thirties, and the carefree style that emulates through many of his earlier work just now seemed a bit too trivial. His audience was now responsible so the music and style seems to illustrate that point fairly well. We must remember that Dylan usually succeeded more times than he failed when taking new directions, and the style here is never embarrassing. In fact, the feel of the album is just the opposite, the sounds come across as quite good.

What is lacking then, is the overall quality of the songs themselves. There really isn't anything that stands out much here. In many cases, he seems as if he's going through the motions, and you have to wonder if the careful production actually manages to bring a lot of the mediocre songs up a notch or two. Throughout the tracks, it's definitely Dylan though. Who else could sound like the man? But with horn solos throughout and pinpoint production, it almost sounds as though the man simply doesn't really belong here. In many ways, this album is to the 1970s what Nashville Skyline was to the 1960s. But where that album sounded very fresh, this record seems to somewhat struggle along.

The one strong track, Is Your Love in Vain? shows evidence that the genius was still around. Whereas the tune Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) sounds as though it would have been more at home with a different arrangement and featured on an album such as 1976's Desire.

So many fault the production and style for the lackadaisical response. He would tour to support this album applying the same styles throughout for his older material as well, and reviews would be mixed for that as well, so perhaps it's a question of taste. For better or worse, this was Dylan being Dylan and probably not caring a lick if people were responsive to the record or not.

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