The 1980s, by and large, was a rough time for Bob Dylan. The decade of Madonna and MTV was perhaps not meant for the artist who had been around for three decades but still wanted to remain both culturally relevant and immediate. He was Bob Dylan, spokesman of a generation. Unlike many artists including most of his peers, Dylan’s past exists more in conjunction with his present than anyone else. It has lead him to make some choices and turns that were both good and bad. The press would remind him which side it landed on This day – January 2, 1985 – saw Bob Dylan make a choice for his 23rd album Empire Burlesque that would bring questions, like his last several previous studio releases had – as well as next several future ones would.
The dilemma was simple for Bob Dylan. Well, it read simply read simply but was far from it. How does an icon remain culturally relevant? Elvis wrestled with the question and ended up dead. The Beatles were British and a tad weird for Dylan’s Mid-Western. As well, they didn’t understand his purpose or his music and that was 9/10s of the problem. Each of the critically panned albums, more so his ones from the 1980 saw Dylan search for a new sound.
That new sound, whether he realized it or not, was Dylan’s way of finally putting the 1960s Bob Dylan to rest, some he worked a long, long time to do.
Music critic Robert Christgau wasn’t impressed.
“At best [Dylan]’s achieved the professionalism he’s always claimed as his goal…he’s certainly talented enough to come up with a good bunch of songs. Hence, his best album since Blood on the Tracks. I wish that was a bigger compliment.”
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume Dylan could care less, not only what the critic thought but what his “fans.”
Empire Burlesque was here to stay and Down in a Groove was out there lurking, waiting to strike.