A bit of a disappointment when you consider that this is the man’s first album after a short period of inactivity producing no true albums (only a soundtrack and a non-okayed and not okay collection of outtakes) and the backing band is the Band. As a personal album (half of these songs are addressed to his then-wife), Bob Dylan offers no personality (with a few exceptions) and thus, Planet Waves – which is by and far my favorite Bob Dylan album title – pails in comparison to personal albums made a decade ago (Another Side of Bob Dylan) and personal albums to be made a year later (Blood on the Tracks). The second side in particular is dead-weight, with clear filler that is the second version of “Forever Young” that’s also needed for the album’s better integrity in a perverted way because otherwise the album is too monotonous, a few quickies with no melodies in “You Angel You” and “Never Say Goodbye” and a few long ones with no melodies in “Dirge” (I think I’ve heard this piano arrangement in a pirate movie, and that’s not a good thing) and “Wedding Song.”
Not that the first side isn’t without it’s own problems: the metronomic drumming on “Going, Going, Gone” is mixed too loudly and had this been released in the 80s, people would’ve assumed it was a robot and not a human responsible; “Tough Mama” might’ve worked with a different singer; “Something There Is About You” has a more formidable melody than 80% of these songs, but it’s much too long. But Robbie Robertson buoys “Going, Going, Gone” with his prickly guitarwork, and I can’t get enough of “On a Night Like This,” which packs the album’s best melody and an inspired harmonica solo at the end. As for the exceptions that I alluded to earlier, though the obvious one is “Forever Young,” where Robbie Robertson playing around on the higher frets of the guitar sounds like a mandolin (or maybe it actually is one), there’s also “Hazel,” which no one seems to ever talk about, despite having an obvious hook (whose melody will be recycled on Saved‘s “What Can I Do For You?). The best moment on the album is on that one, when Bob Dylan sings “It’s making me blinder and blinder/ Because I am up on the hill and still you’re not there,” successfully managing to transport you to where he is and what he’s feeling, if only briefly.