Bob Dylan. The name conjures up many provocative thoughts and images instantaneously. His eclectic and controversial career sets him apart from his contemporaries. His influence and excellence still overshadows modern pop, despite it being 50 years since he first appeared on the scene with his rugged guitar and prophetic lyrics.
The sheer number of top-quality albums in his repertoire can be quite overwhelming to a Dylan novice. From protest folk singer to drugged up rock star, born again Christian to jazz connoisseur: no rolling-stone is left unturned. The album I’ve chosen to focus on in this article is ‘Blood on the Tracks’, the emotionally intense and immensely rich record that was released to the world in 1975. Famously, the album is seen to be an autographical chronicle of the decline of Dylan’s relationship with his then-wife Sara. Their son, Jakob, said that the album was about his parents in a rolling stones article. His father remains elusive, claiming that the album has nothing to do with his personal life, saying in an interview that he doesn’t write “confessional songs”. Anyhow, the pain of relationship struggles and love is undoubtedly conveyed through his solace and ambiguous lyricsl. The album’s instrumentation is skeletal, mainly comprised of Dylan and his trusty guitar and harmonic combo. Dylan’s voice is harsh and nasally, and his lyrics are piercing and acerbic at times.
The album opens with perhaps his most lyrically ambitious song to date. ‘Tangled up in Blue’ takes the listener on a multi-dimensional tour of a relationship, defying linear methods of storytelling. Inspired by cubism, Dylan constructs the song like a painting, it is all there right in front of you to view as you wish. The title of the song speaks millions about the morose nature of the album also: the listener will be tangled up in feelings of blueness and sadness by the end of its 52minute running time. ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ is perhaps my favourite song on the album, with its descriptive lyrics engrossing us in a seedy city atmosphere of neon lights, saxophones and shabby hotels. The repetitious refrain, “simple twist of fate”, speaks about the delicacy of our actions and the lack of control many of us experience in day-to-day life. One last highlight on this album for me is ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’. The song places us in a western setting and tells the story of criminal Casanova Jack of Hearts and his bank heist mission. The song’s clever use of card and poker lexicon is entertaining but also raises an interesting idea about the facade and game-playing involved in romantic relationships.
After just one listen, it’s easy to see why Rolling Stone magazine rated it as the 16th greatest album of all time. Dylan has many, many songs but without a doubt, you’ll find his best ones on ‘Blood on the Tracks’. The Nobel Literature prize winner certainly earns his stripes on his one.