Bob Dylan – Planet Waves Review

A first-time album release between Bob Dylan and The Band was surely set to be a big one. Audiences no doubt know how great lyricists, paired with excellent musicians, are in the business of making brilliant music. They proved that with their earlier recordings from the late 60s which soon became The Basement Tapes. But it wasn’t the case for Planet Waves, where much of the album is spent finding a groove, understanding the efforts or outlook of the other party, or just missing the beat. With a flurry of problems and some glimmers of hope, Planet Waves starts to look like a project solely reliant on a handful of sparks, rather than the boom there was to be seen between the two artists just a few years later on that infamous release.

Slow and steady it was for The Band and Dylan, but it does not stop them from mastering some early ideas and crafting some excellent tracks. Album opener On a Night Like This is just the right light tone and warbling tone from Dylan, who continues to experiment with where his voice can go alongside The Band. But should it be an ironic sign that Going, Going, Gone also marks the lack of quality available? A good track paves the way toward very general songs that have strengths in one component but weaknesses in the other. It is not the strongest lyrical period for Dylan’s work, where his relatively sentimental lyrics are enjoyable but often drowned out by the quality of The Band. But when The Band begin to falter, Dylan picks up the slack.

It’s a unity that would steer this musical collaboration far better on The Basement Tapes, which was right around the corner, but had happened long ago by the time Planet Waves released. Tough Mama is the perfect example of moments where The Band outshine the lyricist at the core. But Wedding Song outs itself as a strong Dylan piece and a stock bit for The Band. Their appeal would grow and grow, eventually capitalising on it entirely with The Basement Tapes. It makes Planet Waves feel like the outline of something greater. A blueprint for what was to come. Enjoying the early rises and falls is essential to understanding just how great a pairing The Band and Dylan were, especially considering how fun and light this 1974 release can be at times. Hazel marks one of Dylan’s finest tracks not just from Planet Waves, but this period. Planet Waves is not without its moments of wisdom, they flow about as well as expected for Dylan’s romantic writings.

Two versions of Forever Young somehow manage to make themselves as good as one another, despite the very obvious upbeat direction of the B-Side opener. A neat album is what Planet Waves is. A fun little look into what The Band and Dylan would soon release, a collection of good tracks that never linger on the mind for more than the minutes they clock up. The Last Waltz also makes itself known, through patters and pieces found on Planet Waves. The B-Side is still as vague as it is enjoyable, but the A-Side, as often is the case with Dylan’s records, makes up for when the steam starts to run out. Even then, Wedding Song is a delightful highlight and many of the tracks listed on Planet Waves feel, if anything, out of Dylan’s comfort zone. Glimmers of excitement.

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