Can Bob Dylan's most enigmatic album be one he's hardly even on? Like an absentee landlord, the masked but hardly anonymous Robert Z appears only four times to deliver a song and maybe change a fuse or two. Yes, it's the soundtrack to his insta-cult film Masked and Anonymous, but the fact that the real-life Dylan is arguably at his career peak since his last derided attempt at filmmaking, Renaldo and Clara, and none of the songwriting here is new (he covers two traditional tunes and remakes two originals), makes this a mild disappointment. As does the fact that he's playing a washed-up rock star as in his last film appearance Hearts of Fire, which means he sits on the sidelines while lesser lights hog up more screen time.
The good news is that there's no one on the record as wretched as Rupert Everett playing a goth rocker in the flick, but you probably won't recognize any of the guest artists unless you remember which guy was the heartthrob in Los Lobos. Consequently, it's a better-than-average tribute album and, as the film takes place in a futuristic Third World America, you get familiar Dylan tunes you know and love sung in Japanese, Turkish, Italian and Spanish. How much you can enjoy Dylan music without understanding the lyrics depends on how well you remember the words in the first place and how much you enjoyed playing Name That Tune listening to garbled sets like At Budokan. For the record, Dylan's diction on the new live version of "Down in the Flood" is just as impenetrable as the Magokoro Brothers' thanks but no regato version of "My Back Pages."
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Those with one eye on posterity will want to own this one simply because it's the first official live recordings of Dylan and his ace live outfit of recent years. They smoke everything else here and certainly merited more prominent placement in this soundtrack.