One lazy Hawaiian afternoon not long ago, a college quarterback won the Heisman trophy then got blown out on the football field that night.
A similar thing happened to Bob Dylan. A week after Life magazine named him among the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century," Dylan released "Under the Red Sky," which could go down as one of the "Most Forgettable Dylan Albums of All Time."Dylan is best known for his biting satire, witty, profound lyricism and passionate vocals. All three elements, however, are missing on "Red Sky."
Though he has never been compared to Frank Sinatra, Dylan's voice seems to be getting worse. Cigarettes taking their toll? Too many years of excessive crowing?
The dearth of lyrics? Life must be too easy these days for Bob. Or maybe he's getting lazy. The satire is weak, if there at all. Doesn't he care anymore?
Whatever the reasons, perhaps Dylan should quit and leave us with the memories. Or maybe he should just release every third album he produces, because during the past 15 years it seemed only every third album plowed new creative ground or adequately cultivated the old. In the process, Dylan has become like a Moroccan rug seller: You basically can't trust him anymore.
While last year's "Oh Mercy," was a gem, this year's "Under the Red Sky" is fool's gold.
Despite a strong musical base provided by an all-star lineup - including David Lindley, the Vaughan brothers, George Harrison, Elton John, David Crosby and Bruce Hornsby - the 10-song album throws us seven interceptions and only three completions. In the end, though, it's Dylan, 0, Dylan fan, 0.
Some good stuff can be found in the title track, a slow-moving, gently swaying commentary that pits childhood innocence against the trappings of the world. But in spite of good lyrics and a catchy tune complete with the emotion of accordion, Dyl-an's voice withers midway through and never recovers.
The same problem with "Born In Time," which is one of those sullen, singularly Dylan love songs. Not one more night/not one more kiss/not this time, Baby/no more of this/Takes too much skill/takes too much will/It's too real. But it lacks the staying power of, say, "Sweetheart Like You" from the 1983 album "Infidels," Dylan's only real brilliant spot of the past decade.
The only other track worth cueing up is "Handy Dandy," which, aside from its corny title, is about as close as Dylan comes to justifying the album. With its enjoyable rockabilly beat, it gives us a glimpse of Dylan the Lyricist: Handy Dandy, just like sugar and candy/If every bone in his body was broken he would never admit it/He got an all-girl orchestra and when he says, "Strike up the band," they heed it.
But no matter how hard you want to like "Red Sky," no matter how hard you try, you wind up falling near the line of scrimmage for little or no gain.