Early 1974's "Planet Waves" was the bridging album between the folky/country material of the late sixties/early seventies and the acoustic-driven rock poetry that was "Blood On The Tracks". It is also as emotionally complex as that album too, no lightweight country pie on here. It is an album that grows on you with each listen, as I listen to it now, I am thinking that the album is better than I had previously thought. The sound is excellent, by the way, unlike the rather harsh sounding "New Morning".
1. On A Night Like This
2. Going. Going, Gone
3. Tough Mama
5. Something There Is About You
6. Forever Young
7. Forever Young (fast version)
9. You Angel You
10. Never Say Goodbye
11. Wedding Song
"On A Night Like This" is an energetic, swirling throwback to the days of 1966, with The Band on top form backing Dylan once again and his delivery enthusiastically upbeat. A beautiful, melodic, deep bass underpins the gorgeous "Going, Going, Gone". This is definitely a precursor to "Blood On The Tracks". It is a dignified, sombre track with a great sound to the backing on it. Robbie Robertson comes up with one hell of a guitar solo to finish the track. "Tough Mama" is a "Basement Tapes"-style bluesy romp, with Garth Hudson's organ blowing and circling around all over the place, like an idiot wind. "Hazel" with her "dirty blonde hair" is a love song from Dylan to another mercurial woman and most entrancing it is too. There are very slight shades of 1983's "Licence To Kill" in there somewhere, just before the "touch of your love" part. Dylan delivers a delicious harmonica too.
"Something There Is About You" has Dylan being nostalgic about the "old Duluth" of his youth. This is harmonica-driven blues rock song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on either "Blood On The Tracks" or, indeed, "Desire". Tracks like this remind one that Dylan hadn't really laid down anything this powerful since "John Wesley Harding" and possibly "Blonde On Blonde". Forget all that country twanging and folk odes, this was proper Dylan.
Talking of proper Dylan. "Forever Young" is next. Uplifting inspiring, heartbreaking. One of my favourite Dylan songs of all time. It never fails to get me all emotional. Superb. I remember seeing Dylan in concert with Mark Knopfler at the Hammersmith Odeon a few years back and Knopfler sang this as the encore, with Dylan sitting regally behind the keyboards. Mark turned to him to deliver the line "may your song always be sung" and the great man, just nodded, like The Queen waving to her subjects. A priceless moment. The faster version of the same song that comes next doesn't do it for me. The slow version is the definitive one, in my opinion. This slightly rockabilly version of it deprives of of its soul, its emotion. It should have stayed on the cutting room floor, maybe replaced by "Nobody 'Cept You".
Only Dylan could title his own song "Dirge". Here he is backed by Robertson, while he plays piano. It is a stark, emotions bared song that, at the time people presumed was about his marriage. Robertson's guitar is sumptuous and while the song is stark and bleak, it is no dirge. Listening to it, you realise "Blood On The Tracks" is on the way. "You Angel You" is a Band-style mid-tempo rocker. "If this is love give me more, more, more" pleads Dylan over another magnificent organ break. "Never Say Goodbye" starts with some searing guitar and is a beguiling, romantic slow burner, once again, it is very Band-like. It is so good to have Dylan back, listening to this. We had missed him. "Wedding Song" is a stark, acoustic guitar and harmonica love song that is in the "Blood On The Tracks" style.
There is no question that this is, by far, Bob Dylan's finest album since "John Wesley Harding". He was now entering a four year halcyon period, the third great one of his career.