Love And Theft

Bob Dylan

Sony Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Love And Theft was released the day the Twin Towers fell. I did my obligatory Sept. 11 story for the university newspaper (most of the news reporters were still sleeping when the tragedy occurred, so I was pulled from the arts and entertainment section). But I still had to review an album.

In a daze, I walked to the record store after I did my story, already going through the stages, like most people I knew: shock, numbness, anger, rage, sadness, sorrow and bewilderment. I was already well aware of the heroism that was displayed that day, but I was desperate for something more. I knew why people hated the United States. And at that time, I craved something tangible. Something to remind me why the United States was still a great country. And for a music geek, that answer most certainly had to come from an album.

Of course, Love and Theft came on the heels of Dylan's Grammy award-winning my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Time Out Of Mind, making it his strongest one-two punch since Blood On The Tracks and Desire. And Love And Theft was Dylan at his loosest and friskiest. The album sounds deceptively effortless, but that typically means that the artist has worked their ass off to make it sound easy.

The characters that populate Love And Theft represent America to the bone: seedy, undesirable gamblers, people with a second chance on life and folks who can't spend money fast enough. All these characters do this in a background of rockabilly, swampy blues and even swing (the swing that would fit right at home in your hometown's VFW Hall).

Of course, you can't accomplish this magic without a decent backup band. And by touring almost nonstop for the better part of two years, Dylan has shaped his band to fit in with wherever the hell he wants to go artistically. On "Cry Awhile," the music shifts schizophrenically to the point that it sounds like three different songs are going on at once. Drummer David Kemper packs a whallop on songs like "Honest With Me" and the shuffling "Lonesome Day Blues."

Dylan purists who poo-pooed Love And Theft for being too light on substance (OK, the senile humor of "Po Boy" can be annoying if you're not in the right mood) should scan the lyrics of the closing song "Sugar Babe." "I got my back to the sun, because the light is too intense," Dylan says in a cryptic, almost mummified voice. "Happiness can come suddenly and leave just as quick." Simple lyrics, yeah, but they can go toe-to-toe with any of the darkest parts of Time Out Of Mind.

The character at the end of "Highlands" (from Time Out Of Mind) bemoaned "The party's over, and there's less and less to say." On Love And Theft, it sounds like that character had a heart attack, but survived, and with a new lease on life, vows to spend every dime he has, hit on every girl in sight and to thieve a cliché: rage against the dying of the light. Is this Dylan? Who cares?

Love And Theft is Bob Dylan at another turn. It would have been so easy with Time Out Of Mind to usher Dylan out of musical relevance, because it sounded like the perfect album to retire with. But with Love And Theft, Dylan shows us that his peak may still be a few albums ahead. And fortunately, he did it just at the moment when America needed him the most.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


© 2003 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony Records, and is used for informational purposes only.