Empire Burlesque

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1985


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It’s safe to say that, among music fans, Empire Burlesque is one of Bob Dylan's most ignored albums. On the second studio album following his Christian-music trilogy, Dylan was finding it harder and harder to fit in with the musical scene that was 1985, and even dabbled in his first music video for the song “Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love)” in an effort to remain relevant.

Is this a great disc? Absolutely not… but there are moments on it which not only show that Dylan was indeed relevant, but prove to be some of his better work.

That sentiment is most definitely not what you'd have coming off the first two songs on the album. Both “Tight Connection To My Heart” and “Seeing The Real You At Last” feature the over-exaggerated Dylan vocals that decimated his previous release my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Real Live. The opening track has not aged well as a single – and, honestly the overall production on the disc left a lot to be desired. So, it’s safe to say the vibes for the album are not good straight out of the gate.

But then Dylan throws a curveball in the form of a ballad -- “I'll Remember You.”  Simply stated, it is a beautiful piece of music, and had the production work been better, this could have been one of Dylan's most legendary songs of his career. Why it isn’t often listed among his best works, I honestly have no idea, but it is the brightest light on this disc.

The bulk of the remaining tracks on Empire Burlesque are not quite in that same boat, but they benefit from the fact that Dylan finally stops over-singing for the most part, and the more restrained vocals actually work to strengthen the selections here (with one exception). It's not that songs like “Clean Cut Kid,” “Emotionally Yours” or “Something's Burning, Baby” are bad, but they are just nothing out of the ordinary.

Of these tracks, “Dark Eyes” turns out to be the second most powerful on the disc, and even dares to suggest that Dylan is at his most powerful when he either strips his sound down to a more basic approach or when he takes on ballads. (This is something he'd cement in my mind with “To Make You Feel My Love” many years later.)

The one exception is “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky,” which has been dubbed by many as “disco Dylan.” It definitely is a different sound for him… and, honestly, it's not a good one. The fact that the songwriting on this one is also on the weak side doesn't help the cause much; it’s one of the more forgettable efforts in Dylan's career.

Empire Burlesque, in the end, is a letdown, but I'd be hard-pressed to say it's a bad album. Indeed, it has two moments which absolutely prove that, over two decades into his career, Dylan was still capable of taking a good song and knocking it out of the park. I just wish there had been more moments like this on the album. It's worth checking out, with some reservations.

Rating: C-

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