Someone by the name of S Fall over in the Reader Comments section of Mark Prindle’s review of the album brings up a bunch of wonderful points in defense of the album (I’ve combed for, reorganized and formatted the most pertinent bits):
1. “There’s a joyful exuberance in the weird reggae of ‘Precious Memories‘” – yup. Doesn’t stop it from being shitty though.
2. “It’s a short album. More people should record short albums” – amen, brother.
3. “At least Bob is trying something new with a ‘modern sound’ […] It would presumably have been easy enough for him to knock out ten acoustic songs and get rave reviews, but he bravely chose a more tricky path.” ‘Tis true, and at the very least, Knocked Out Loaded is a lot more memorable and ambitious than some of the mediocre folk records Bob Dylan will spit out.
4. “Lyrically, ‘Brownsville Girl’ is different to pretty much everything else in Dylan’s catalogue (or anyone else’s, come to think of it). Enjoy its strangeness.”
Yup. Anyone who likes Bob Dylan but has their rightful trepidations of listening to his 80s output ought to listen to “Brownsville Girl” because Sam Sheppard (or Bob Dylan) cooks up some wonderfully memorable lines in either their seriousness or absurdity (or, true to Sam Sheppard (or Bob Dylan)’s best work, sometimes both simultaneously):
- “I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul”;
- “I didn’t know whether to duck or to run, so I ran”;
- “I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears / It was the best acting I saw anybody do”;
- “Now I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t like to trespass but sometimes you just find yourself over the line”;
- “You know, I feel pretty good, but that ain’t sayin’ much. I could feel a whole lot better / If you were just here by my side to show me how”;
- “The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter”;
- ”Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content”;
- ”You always said people don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent.”
Unfortunately, I don’t particularly like listening to the song all that much because of its length: I think if you cut out the references to Gregory Peck and the zero-melody and trop gospel troop-aided choruses, you’d have a much better song. That being said, the gospel choirs in this song color in the verses that makes it seem like you are watching a film/play, and that’s more than I can say about them anywhere else on the album.
5. “Knocked Out Loaded may be a failure, but its an interesting one. Even Dylan’s lesser works are worth hearing. This isn’t the case with most artists.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
The rest? I’d say “You Wanna Ramble,” “Driftin’ Too Far From Shore” and “I’ve Got My Mind Made Up” aren’t bad, but any points they receive for listenability are lost by the atrocious singing of “Maybe Someday,” the horrid drumming of “Under Your Spell” or the incorporation of a children choir in “They Killed Him” in the most hamfisted way to evoke empathy for how they killed Him (capital ‘H’) but instead just makes you want to punch everyone involved. Including the children; that’s how bad it is.