CD Review of Dylanesque by Bryan Ferry

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Released: 2007
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Dylan purists will always balk when someone comes around and starts covering their idol’s work. This is understandable, as once you become a Bob Dylan fan and delve into his catalogue you get used to hearing his own take on his material, often filled with a wry sense of humor even in the darker songs. On the other hand, Dylan’s work has often led to some nice covers, such as Thunderclap Newman’s take of “Open the Door, Homer” and the Ramones’ “My Back Pages.” Of course, William Shatner’s iconic take on “Mr. Tambourine Man” will always live on as sheer insane greatness, but that’s another story in itself. The fact is, even Dylan fans know how silly and terrible Bob himself can be at covering his own work – “Like a Rolling Stone” on Self Portrait is a thing to behold, indeed.

But there are always going to be the people that can’t tap into Dylan’s voice and the original takes on his well-traveled tunes. It’s understandable; it took me a long time to enjoy Bob’s work as recorded by its author, but that switch was finally flipped along the line and I can say I am a fan these days. For the rest of the world, though, there will forever be those that cover Dylan to varying degrees. After all, it was Jimi Hendrix who took “All Along the Watchtower” and made it his own. So here we have Bryan Ferry stepping up to the plate, taking 11 Dylan classics, and killing them.

Ferry fans are going to cry foul, perhaps, but come on. I couldn’t believe how shot the guy’s voice is these days. The opening track, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” literally sounds like some hip old man wrestling his way through some bad Dylan karaoke. Ferry’s “singing” these days has slipped into more of an attempt at hitting the melody every now and then while the rest of the time he’s doing this weird semi-whispering/flat intonation that goes nowhere. It’s like seeing some once-great star doing charity work on a local telethon and just trying to get through as best he can so he can grab his paycheck and move on to the next depressing locale that will have him.

But that first number is just plain bad. The original was a dark portrait of losing oneself in all sorts of bad ways, but it still had that oddball Dylan humor to it that ran perfectly alongside the pathos. Here, Ferry loses that entire aspect of the song and turns it into one for dear old mom and dad. Hooray! Strike one for that opening salvo. Things aren’t looking good for Ferry, and they get a little worse when he decides to take Blood on the Tracks’ wonderful “Simple Twist of Fate” and turn it into this rollicking pop tune completely devoid of its original majesty. Once again, that voice is just shot, and you can almost see Ferry’s sagging neck muscles straining to hit the few notes he does reach for every now and then.

“The Times They Are A-Changin’” is also stripped of its guts and left for Vegas. Yeah, the song has been covered countless times and not always terrifically, and if I personally never heard anyone’s take on it again, that would be just fine. But this is just too damn dull for its own good. It sounds like something you’d hear in the background of a direct-to-video Steven Seagal flick as he’s driving down the road in a shitty old pickup, stopping at a roadside diner to ask kindly for directions, and instead walking into a room full of bad-ass truckers whose arms he winds up breaking with his double chin.

“Make You Feel My Love” is synthed-up Muzak here, and the oft-covered “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is just another plain Jane take on the tired workhorse. That is, you don’t need to hear it to know how it sounds. You know how it’s going to come off just reading the title on the track list. And then there’s “All I Really Want to Do,” which sounds like it came off of some cheesy feel-good sort of movie soundtrack, maybe one starring Hugh Grant or Jennifer Aniston (or both) that features an outdoor wedding scene. Ugh. Bryan, what have you done here?

What he does to “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is wonky as well. While listening, you can’t help imagining some old grandfather trying out the family karaoke machine for the first time and doing a bit of the twist as he chokes down the melody. Don’t throw out your hip, grandpa. And for his own take on “All Along the Watchtower,” Ferry decides to rock it a la Hendrix and vocally deliver it a la Tim Conway’s really old man character. You know, the one with the really white wig that walks really slowly in little steps.

I’m really not a Dylan purist. I can appreciate a good cover version of the man’s work. But this collection isn’t good. At best it’s laughable and at worst it shows Bryan Ferry losing his ability to sing. And what the hell is up with that horrible cover art? Ah well, perhaps Ferry fans will dig some of this, but it’s hard to say. The production does have some nice warmth to it, and apparently it was quickly recorded live in the studio, but therein may lie the album’s problem. Maybe Dylanesque could have used some time to cook. No matter, as it’ll just be a blip on Ferry’s career and won’t do anything to hurt Dylan’s reputation.

~Jason Thompson