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Under The Red Sky:Bob Dylan

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Under the Red Sky is the twenty-seventh studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on September 10, 1990 by Columbia Records.

The album was largely greeted as a strange and disappointing follow-up to 1989's critically acclaimed Oh Mercy. Most of the criticism was directed at the slick sound of pop producer Don Was, as well as a handful of tracks that seem rooted in children's nursery rhymes. It is a rarity in Dylan's catalog for its inclusion of celebrity cameos byJimmie VaughanSlashElton JohnGeorge HarrisonDavid CrosbyStevie Ray Vaughan and Bruce Hornsby.

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Dedication

Dedication[edit]Edit

The album is dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", later explained to be a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. This has led to the popular assumption that the album's more childlike songs were for her entertainment, something that has never been confirmed nor denied by Dylan.

Reception[edit]Edit

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [1]
Robert Christgau A−[2]
Entertainment Weekly (C) [3]
Rolling Stone [4]

Dylan has echoed most critics' complaints, telling Rolling Stone in a 2006 interview that the album's shortcomings resulted from hurried and unfocused recording sessions, due in part to his activity with the Traveling Wilburys at the time. He also claimed that there were too many people working on the album, and that he was very disillusioned with the recording industry during this period of his career.

Dylan critic Patrick Humphries, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Bob Dylan, was particularly harsh in his assessment of Under the Red Sky, stating the album "was everything Oh Mercy wasn't—sloppily written songs, lazily performed and unimaginatively produced. The first bridge of "2 X 2" ("How much poison did they inhale?") was reminiscent of the menace which pervaded Oh Mercy, but otherwise, where before there had been certainty and sureness, here was confusion and indecision."[5]

Humphries saved his harshest attack for the album's opening song, "Wiggle Wiggle":

Then there's "Wiggle Wiggle": worse than anything Dylan has ever recorded? Maybe not that bad, but certainly up there, jostling for position in that particular part of hell, where the jukebox plays nothing but "Joey" (from Desire) and "Had a Dream About You, Baby" (from Down in the Groove). "Wiggle Wiggle" was the one the critics jumped on, particularly the line "Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soup", which was taken as proof positive that Dylan had lost it, definitely, permanently, irrevocably. It was hard to disagree—it is hard to reconcile such a line with the man who wrote "Desolation Row" (fromHighway 61 Revisited). Of course, you can't get Hamlet or "Like a Rolling Stone" every time out of the traps, but "Wiggle Wiggle"?[5]

The album did have some critical support, particularly from Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, who wrote "To my astonishment, I think Under the Red Sky is Dylan's best album in 15 years, a record that may even signal a ridiculously belated if not totally meaningless return to form...It's fabulistic, biblical...the tempos are postpunk like it oughta be, with [Kenny] Aronoff's sprints and shuffles grooving ahead like '60s folk-rock never did." And Paul Nelson, writing for Musician, called the album "a deliberately throwaway masterpiece." When the Voice held its Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1990, Under the Red Sky placed at #39.

In the end, album sales were disappointing, peaking at #38 on the US charts and #13 in the UK. According to the book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, the disappointing record sales of this album made him depressed. On top of that, Dylan's second wife had just signed for divorce in August 1990.

The songs[edit]Edit

In 2005, Q magazine included the lead-off track "Wiggle Wiggle" in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists". Time Magazine placed "Wiggle Wiggle" on the list of The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs, noting that it "...sounds like the theme song to one of those tripped-out television shows beloved by toddlers and drug users."[6] The song was covered on the 2014 tribute album Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One by Slash andAaron Freeman.[7]

Two songs, "Born in Time" and "God Knows", are reworkings of material originally recorded at the previous year's Oh Mercy sessions.

The intro to "Unbelievable" is very similar to the intro on Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" as sung by The Beatles on Beatles for Sale.

According to producer Don Was, there were two outtakes from the album: "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (which Dylan co-wrote with Was and David Weiss) and "Heartland" (which Dylan later sang withWillie Nelson on Nelson's 1993 album Across the Borderline).[8] "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was later recorded by Don Was's group Was (Not Was) for their 2008 album Boo! as "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore".

Aftermath[edit]Edit

Dylan recorded and released the nursery rhyme song, "This Old Man", on the Disney charity album, For Our Children, in 1991, a year after this album was released.

Dylan's follow-up effort Good As I Been to You would be released two years later.

Track listing[edit]Edit

All songs written by Bob Dylan.

  1. "Wiggle Wiggle" – 2:09
  2. "Under the Red Sky" – 4:09
  3. "Unbelievable" – 4:06
  4. "Born in Time" – 3:39
  5. "T.V. Talkin' Song" – 3:02
  6. "10,000 Men" – 4:21
  7. "2 × 2" – 3:36
  8. "God Knows" – 3:02
  9. "Handy Dandy" – 4:03
  10. "Cat's in the Well" – 3:21

Personnel[edit]Edit

Additional musicians
Technical personnel
  • Dan Bosworth – assistant engineering
  • Marsha Burns – production coordination
  • Ed Cherney – engineering, mixing
  • Steve Deutsch – assistant engineering
  • Judy Kirshner – assistant engineering
  • Jim Mitchell – assistant engineering
  • Brett Swain – assistant engineering

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