Bob Dylan – MTV Unplugged Review

Stunning the Unplugged… series from MTV may be, it was not for everyone. Bob Dylan may be the Voice of a Generation, but once he acknowledged that, he had a period where he leaned on it as a crutch for his music. Live albums in the Unplugged series are held to high scrutiny thanks to the phenomenal works presented by Nirvana and Eric Clapton. Dylan should have been up there with the greats for these sets, but outside of a few covers here and edits there, Bob Dylan – MTV Unplugged is a dire affair that sees the hero acknowledge his deity-like proficiency for great songs and solid performances. He takes it to heart, and does not get to grips with it.

He is under fire from all directions, but it is not immediately noticeable. Tombstone Blues sounds solid enough, but the vocals feel slurred. Slowed down to clash against the faster tempo that engulfs his style. It is a shame, for the greatest asset Bob Dylan – MTV Unplugged has is that its collection of instrumentalists is superb. Their work here is fantastic. The problem lies with the man at the centre. Dylan is rarely the issue with a work of music, rarer still to see it become an unavoidable tragedy of his work, but that is the case for this live MTV set. His music and classic tracks spring to life when he lets the big band feeling come to life in the live arena.

Such a powerful voice is never going to be permanently staggered, though. Bob Dylan – MTV Unplugged features some resilient performances. Shooting Star is a grand experience, again relying on the instrumentals that bookend a strong vocal performance. It is Dylan’s reliance on the instrumental parts of songs that never had them that make his MTV Unplugged not just worth a listen, but vaguely superior to the original versions. Look no further than All Along the Watchtower for a redux that rivals the original works and that of Jim Hendrix’s iconic cover. Dylan’s slower break for The Times They Are A-Changin is a delightful feature of the album and one of the few highlights. It is a track that reduces worries over the main man losing his touch. He still has it, he just wishes to apply it to something different, fresh and exciting. His MTV Unplugged work is all that.

A messy but incredibly rewarding collection of tracks. Starting slow, peaking in the middle and petering out, Dylan covers some of his finest tracks. It feels as though he is unsure as to why he is covering them. MTV ask, an artist delivers. That is the bond Dylan has made, although how much of it feels like a classic riff from the past shooting forth into the future is unknown. He reminds his listeners of the tracks that formed his greatest years, covering them with a desire to rework the riffs that silenced and inspired generations of music fans. That is no small task, but Dylan is up to the monumental challenge of reworking the golden age and churning out more detail than first expected.

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