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Recorded between 1983 and 1987, Down in the Groove is an often forgotten Dylan album, purely because it isn't really like the other albums of the 1980s for him. It has its own character and that character is normally pushed to the background, as everyone is in awe about Empire Burlesque (whether that be positive awe or disgust, it doesn't matter). David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine gives some insight into the album for people who want to see the other side:
"Its release was delayed for more than half a year, and the track listing was altered at least three times. If the musician credits are any indication, the songs that made the final cut come from half a dozen different recording sessions spread out over six years."
Many people compared this album and Knocked Out Loaded (the album before it) to the release of Self Portrait, in which nobody really knew what Bob Dylan was doing. A reviewer wrote:
"Where Self Portrait was at least weird, splitting the difference between horrible and hilarious, he is forever professional—not a single remake honors or desecrates the original. All he can do to a song is Dylanize it, and thus his Danny Kortchmar band and his Steve Jones-Paul Simonon band are indistinguishable, immersed in that patented and by now meaningless one-take sound."
Rolling Stone Magazine have actually since labelled Down in the Groove as Bob Dylan's worst album (which I feel is really harsh, have any of them heard the song "Precious Memories"? Really? Down in the Groove is the worst album and we have Knocked Out Loaded with the song "Precious Memories" on it? I'm joking—they're both good albums and you guys are just mean). Well, here's what they said:
"Dylan fans will forever argue about the precise moment when his career hit rock-bottom but most pin it somewhere around the time that Down in the Groove landed with a thud in record stores in May 1988."—That is incredibly harsh Rolling Stone. How could you?
Well, we're going to be positive about this and go through five reasons we love Down in the Groove. It's a good album, you guys are just mean.
You cannot deny that the song "Silvio" is brilliant. I love that song because it just sounds amazing. It's been included on the volumes of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits as well—and guess what? It was first featured on the studio album Down in the Groove. So what do people mean when they call this album Bob Dylan's worst? I will never know because that song alone will always bring its status up for me.
2. The Atmosphere
The encyclopedia of popular music stated that the album sharing no single recording session created a sound that was "raucous to pensive to sombre in a heartbeat." Meaning that the album had so many different sounds going on. Now, call me silly, but I think that's a great way of making an album sound more experimental. Especially when he just did Infidels in the same decade—and we have to admit, a lot of songs on that album sound similar (Infidels is an amazing album, by the way). But if he wanted to be more experimental, of course he's going to change the sound from song to song.
3. The Reviews
Worst album who?
I'm sorry, but this album technically got better reviews overall than Bob Dylan's Self Portrait and therefore, in those terms, it cannot be considered his worst album. Truthfully, I don't think Self Portrait is a bad album but Greil Marcus is just mean.
AllMusic rated it at two stars out of five. Entertainment Weekly gave it a C+ and MusicHound gave it one and a half stars out of five. Whereas, Rolling Stone Magazine (who called it Bob Dylan's worst album) gave it two and a half stars, and they gave "Self Portrait" two stars? Hello? Worst album who? The "Rolling Stone Album Guide" ended up giving it two stars out of five and Robert Christgau gave it a C+.
A highly under-appreciated album, but technically incorrect when you call it Bob Dylan's worst. If we're talking on the basis of reviews Rolling Stone, you've really just not paid attention.
4. The NET
The NET began in 1988, coinciding with the release of Down in the Groove for some reason. The NET is the "Never Ending Tour" that Bob Dylan started in the late 80s and is still going on today. It has been going on for 31 years now and as we celebrate the release of Down in the Groove we can also celebrate the beginning of the Never Ending Tour. Why? Well, because believe it or not—it was this album that started that ball rolling.
5. The Songs
Some of the songs on this album are brilliant, some are just okay, but none of them are completely bad. I'm sorry, there's not a single song that can make me feel the way "New Pony" from Street-Legal makes me feel; if you want a bad Bob Dylan song, seek out "New Pony." Down in the Groove has a couple of well respected songs, which is another reason why I don't understand why it's called his worst album. Here are the good songs from the album:
I may not personally enjoy "Let's Stick Together," but it's still a good song musically speaking.
I personally don't understand why people call this album Bob Dylan's worst album at all. Yes, it's a different sound, yes it's new and inventive but that's what Bob Dylan does. Think about how boring he'd be if every album was the same. We would have never got into the Judas era and the electric Dylan controversy, we wouldn't have got John Wesley Harding and the semi-acoustic era. We would have never got Desire or even the Gospel Era. We wouldn't have gotten Empire Burlesque or any of Dylan's Jazz songs. All these things we wouldn't have if Bob Dylan just stayed the same. He's doing something different, something new and inventive so please respect the fact that all he wants to do is express himself. Also, this album is still better than most of the stuff released these days (unless it's by Bob Dylan of course).