Sorry, Bob Dylan's Self Portrait Is Still a Bad Album
Perhaps you've read the weirdly fawning praise of Bob Dylan's tenth installment in his famed Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait 1969-1971. ("One of the most important, coherent and fulfilling Bob Dylan albums ever released," some buffoon for Rolling Stone just claimed!)
Perhaps, while in your collecting-every-Dylan-record phase, you presumed that the critics of the early 1970s were wrong, and that Self Portrait couldn't really be all that bad. Perhaps it's been collecting dust, ever since you listened to it twice and decided you'd rather spin Highway 61 Revisited for the hundredth time.
And, worse yet, perhaps you're thinking that you want to give it another chance. Don't.
As most of the reviews are drawing attention to its original Greil Marcus takedown ("What is this shit?" he famously asked in his Rolling Stone review upon the album's 1970 release), it can't hurt to draw attention to it once more. But here's the catch: don't listen to Columbia Records, Marcus was right the first time. What is this shit?
I won't argue that there's nothing worthwhile on Self Portrait, or that some of the bonus tracks included on the Bootleg Series version aren't worth a spin or two. "Days of '49" remains a charming track, and the stripped version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is arresting and haunting. But a few diamonds in the rough do not an excellent album make; hell, they don't even make a better-than-you-remember classic.
What's most surprising about this praise is that critics seemed more willing to take Dylan down a peg when he was at the height of his powers (or at least only an album or two removed from them.)
But for a guy who's released a surfeit of truly abysmal stuff in the past few decades--we're now giving him the lifetime pass?
Everything he's released since Time Out of Mind has been met with nearly unanimous praise, even though Love & Theft is the only one of that lot that isn't a complete snoozefest.
And now the hero worship is so bad that we're calling Self Portrait a good record?
Have we forgotten the rambling (and not in a good way) Isle of Wight version of "Like a Rolling Stone," where Dylan uses his Nashville Skyline voice and thereby ruins the song, with nothing The Band does to buoy it?
Has it been so long that we're willing to look past the absolutely inessential and weirdly multi-tracked cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer"? Has our adoration of Dylan now hit the point that the mumbly, repetitive "Alberta #1" does anything other than put us to sleep?
I hope not. There are plenty of records out there that were reviled or ignored when first released--take another listen to Fleetwood Mac's emphatic, paranoid Tusk, or Dennis Wilson's criminally ignored and sublime Pacific Ocean Blue. Just leave Self Portrait in the discount bins where it belongs.
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