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Rather uneven collection with great highs and just so songs
on October 10, 2007
Dylan's critical reputation had sort of gotten into a funk, and this album does not help any matters. Some people want to tell you its one of the great underrated masterpieces of Dylan's career. If you're were talking about STREET LEGAL or EMPIRE BURLESQUE, I'd tend to agree, although the later seems to have a fairly good critical reputation.
As far as the Christianity goes, this is the by far the most accessible to a secular audience, although SLOW TRAIN COMING is better aesthetically. Though there are several explicit Christian songs, Dylan included secular music, allowing it to reach the secular audience more on their level, and yet retaining the fundamentals of Christianity. On it's most basic level SHOT OF LOVE is a Christian record. But instead of preaching to the choir like he did on SAVED (which had no appeal to the secular audience, thus making it not much good in terms of being an evangelical tool), this record dresses its message of freedom and Christianity in pop music, and while the idea is a good one for reaching the lost, aesthetically it only produces mixed results.
This record, although only very limited, becomes something of a return to form for Dylan, especially with "Every Grain of Sand", showing he can make his new found faith and his writing come together in a glorious result, which he also did with "Angelina", which was sadly left off this album. SAVED was something only a converted audience could appreciate. The next release, INFIDELS, is another album I consider Christian, playing almost like a concept album, but for some reason never regarded as such. (For those of you who think "Man of Peace" is an attack on Christianity, in context of the album and its outtakes it is obviously not the case. Instead, he's singing about the anti Christ, as evidenced by several clues).
SHOT OF LOVE had the potential to be, if not a great, at least a good Dylan album. Like INFIDELS, Dylan cut some of the strongest material from the final album, which would have greatly strengthened the album. Though INFIDELS is more famous for the material it did NOT include, it still managed to be a fairly consistent, good album, though not as good as it could have been.
SHOT OF LOVE, however, to me at least, is the real "what could have been" album of Dylan's career, not INFIDELS. Dylan had the material to produce a very strong album, and instead produced a very uneven, mediocre album. At least the material he chose to release on INFIDELS was strong, even though it wasn't the best from the sessions. With SHOT, not only did Dylan not release the strongest material, he released a lot of just flat out subpar songs.
The three songs from BOOTLEG, "You Changed My Life," "Need a Woman", and "Angelina", are all quite a bit better than much of the material on the actual album, with the last track especially being one of Dylan's latter day masterpeices, on level with "Every Grain of Sand". Dylan also worked on two major new compositions, neither of which made the album. These are "Carribean Wind" and "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Alter", both of which are fantastic. A much maligned version of "Wind" was released on Biograph (there is a much better, unreleased version circulating in collector circles and the Internet). There are several other circulating outtakes. One, "Magic", was going to be released on the album as well but was deleted from the final sequence. Again, a major mistake.
This album does what no other Dylan record has done: reincorporate a stray track into the running order, and for good reason as it's one of his best. "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar", originally a B Side from one of the singles off this album and included since 1985, rocks as hard as anything on HIGHWAY 61 REVISTED, as does "Shot of Love".
"Lenny Bruce" is one of the most bizarre tracks here. It is strange Dylan would include a tribute to a foul mouth, obscene drug addict during his Christian trilogy, and not only that several of the lyrics are not only generic but don't have much to do with Bruce himself. Dylan writes the weird line "he never cut off any babies' heads." How did that ever stay in the song? Sounds like a place holder line that Dylan never took out, and has absolutely nothing to do with Bruce (or most other people, for that matter). It's interesting to listen to the song as a tribute to John Lennon.
Then we have one of the few tracks from the 1980s that is undeniably a masterpiece anyway you cut it: "Every Grain of Sand". It angers me that this song often is overlooked by compilers when it should be included. This, "Jokerman", "I & I", "Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)", and "Brownsville Girl" can stand proud against any of the 1960s material.
Well, what about the other tracks? They seem, to me, rather generic and not quite up to par, and unfortunately this material constitutes half the album. "Heart of Mine" is good, but not great. Dylan admits to recording better versions of "Heart of Mine," but only chose the take issued on the album because Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr played on it.
"Watered Down Love" is just watered down Dylanspeak "Positively Fourth Street". "Dead Man, Dead Man", "In the Summer Time", and "Trouble" are hardly better, although I do like "Trouble" quite a bit, it being rather funky. But it is still not the best song in the world. "In the Summer Time" feels much longer than it actually is because it's so monotonous.
It is just perplexing on why he left most of the best material from the sessions off the album. Had he then eliminated the dead weight it would be the other classic that people so want it be to from the 1980s, joining INFIDELS, EMPIRE BURLESQUE, and OH MERCY as the very strong albums of the 1980s, and Dylan desperately needed this.
As it stands, it is just a pop record that has its moments with some average or almost there material. It also has no material that is just absolutely terrible, like, oh, say Dylan's 1986 and 1988 releases respectively. It does have its own atmosphere, and all the songs contribute to that. But instead of excellence it just doesn't sit right with me.
Dylan needs help when it comes to track selection, botching both this and INFIDELS, ruining both releases by leaving several great songs OFF of the album that should have been included. But Dylan also proved himself rather inept at judging what should and should and should not be on an album as early as the 1960s, leaving "Farewell Angelina" off BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME and a doing a complete take of "She's Your Lover Now" and putting it on BLONDE ON BLONDE. It would have been nice had FREEWHEELIN been a double lp (he certainly had the material for it), but to be fair to Dylan, that had never been done before and that was only his second release. (A side note: BLONDE ON BLONDE was the first double rock album ever).
But then he wouldn't be Dylan