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Since time began, I have been ridiculed, made fun of, laughed at and scorned for liking and constantly supporting the confusing and "interesting" album Empire Burlesque. It is a very complicated thing for me to explain since I haven’t really met anyone else who likes the album—but in this article, I will try to give you some background for why I love it.
The album was released in 1985 and strangely, on the same day as the controversial album Self Portrait just 15 years later. This coincidence has led people to state that this date was because of the content of both of the albums being not just controversial for the artist and his sound, but also because of the perceived quality of the albums. I feel like people don’t like Empire Burlesque purely because other people don’t like it or because people in magazines don’t like it, and that really isn’t a reason not to like the album, so I find it very silly. A lot of the hate that is directed towards the album, I feel, is not necessary, seeing as we’ve seen Dylan do this before with other eras. Bob Dylan has constantly changed his ways of thinking about music and, on this album, we only see yet another side of him (okay, fine I’ll stop now). So, in reality, this album shouldn’t surprise anyone.
However confusing the contents may be, the album still contains largely good quality music with Dylan creating a new sound for the new era. The song “Dark Eyes” is widely praised and is considered to be the best song on the record since it is the only acoustic song present on that album. I’ve seen, though, that many people appreciate the bootleg v.1-3 version of “Tight Connection to My Heart,” entitled, “Someone’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” more than the original one on the album, and I cannot for the life of me see why. I mean if Dylan were to put that bootleg version on the actual album then, if you think about it, the sound of the album wouldn’t make any sense at all.
What I am trying to say is that there are many reasons to like Empire Burlesque and I’ve only covered one or two of them up there in the introduction. The fact that Bob Dylan was, yet again, trying something new and inventive sounds pretty damn cool when you think about the idea of the album. When you get around to listening to it, you need to think about the 80s for Bob Dylan and how he was trying to move with the times, so he released the 80s almost-pop album Empire Burlesque.
People tend to say that I’m “brave” for stating my support for Empire Burlesque, and I can handle that perfectly fine, but I don’t understand why some people don’t choose to voice their appreciation for it. I mean it’s a great album and definitely in my Dylan top 10 albums of all time. I love the sound and the vocals and the way the album has been designed. The album has some brilliant numbers such as “Clean Cut Kid” and “I’ll Remember You.” I don’t think it deserves the hate it gets simply because it is an electric, pop album.
So, without further introduction, here are my top five reasons for loving the album Empire Burlesque and, as this is supposed to be a celebration of the album, I don’t care whether you like it or not or whether you’ve even heard of it; you’re obliged to listen to the album on this day. It is a good album, you guys are just mean. Now, on to the top 5; who said you can’t dance to Bob Dylan?
5 - Bob Dylan Trying Something New
For years, he had been confined to rock and folk music, and I can appreciate that he’s breaking that mould and trying something he’s never even experimented with before. Just like Newport’s Electric Dylan controversy, The JUDAS! Era, the semi-acoustic late 60s and even as recent as the gospel era of 1979-81, Bob Dylan shows that he is continuously experimental and constantly finding new things for his music. So, you really can’t complain that it "doesn’t sound like Dylan" as if you know what Dylan really sounds like. For most people, they don’t really understand Bob Dylan’s mental state possibly not being in the best shape at this time, and so I take this album as his response towards being pigeonholed into the “voice of a generation” or the “god of folk.”
4 - "Dark Eyes"
The song “Dark Eyes” is normally called the best song on the album, mainly because it is the only acoustic song on the whole record and makes people nostalgic about the old Dylan from before Empire Burlesque. I would say that the song is very poetic and possibly one of Bob Dylan’s greatest 1980s songs, but it is not the best song on the album. The lyrics to “Dark Eyes” are so apocalyptic and philosophical that it sounds like the song itself belongs on Infidels and not on Empire Burlesque. But, as always, everyone thought “Blind Willie McTell” would be released on Infidels as well, and look what happened there. I mean, Bob Dylan never really does what is expected of him and at the end of the day, that’s why we love him immensely.
3 - The Vocals
Say what you like about this album, but you have to admit that the vocals are pretty amazing. The song “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky” has some brilliant intonation, and the way it is performed has such intense feeling. The song “Clean Cut Kid” has incredible power. It’s Bob Dylan displaying his vocal abilities, the ones that we love from Infidels—and he’s proving that he can sing in pretty much any style of music. The whole point of this album, I believe, is for Bob Dylan to showcase his incredible ability in singing and music, showing that he can just about do it all. I mean, by the beginning of this album, he’d just come out of singing gospel and soul.
2 - "Tight Connection to My Heart"
This is quite possibly one of my favourite songs by Bob Dylan and, to me, it’s the best song on the album, though everyone I know seems to dislike it and prefer the bootleg version more. The bootleg version is the same sound on a different day, whereas the album version is different for Dylan’s overall look and persona. It showcases Dylan’s ability to still write a good story in his songs, to sing with backing singers, to produce good music and to have a really good beat underneath. I find that there’s something very sweet and adorable about this song, as if it’s almost a love song but not quite there. I would also really like to see more appreciation for it from my friends online—I’m talking to the ones who call me “brave” for voicing my love for the album.
1 - "Seeing the Real You At Last” by Britta Lee Shain
Named after the song on Empire Burlesque, the book Seeing the Real You at Last was written by Britta Lee Shain and is about knowing Bob Dylan during the late 80s era. I loved reading and rereading this book because it is so adorable to see someone speak so nicely about him when they knew him at a time when he was possibly doing far too much cocaine. I feel like she put a lot of time and effort into writing and producing this book and yet, it has been clearly written straight from the heart. There’s even some mentions of Carolyn Dennis in the book too. I find Britta Lee Shain’s version of events to be heartfelt, and unlike "Dylanology," she doesn’t try to find the meaning behind anything, she just appreciates the time she got to spend with Bob Dylan. It’s like a long thank you letter, or something as nostalgic as an old diary entry of some great days spent with someone else.