Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bob Dylan: Under the Red Sky [Columbia, 1990]
This Was Bros. pseudothrowaway improves on the hushed emotion, weary wisdom, and new-age "maturity" of the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy even if the lyrics are sloppier--the anomaly is what Lanois calls Oh Mercy's "focused" writing. Aiming frankly for the evocative, the fabulistic, the biblical, Dylan exploits narrative metaphor as an adaptive mechanism that allows him to inhabit a "mature" pessimism he knows isn't the meaning of life. Where his seminal folk-rock records were cut with Nashville cats on drums--Kenny Buttrey when he was lucky, nonentities when he wasn't--here Kenny Aronoff's tempos are postpunk like it oughta be, springs and shuffles grooving ever forward. The fables are strengthened by the workout, and as a realist I also treasure their literal moments. I credit his outrage without forgetting his royalty statements. I believe he's gritted his teeth through the bad patches of a long-term sexual relationship even if he still measures the long term in months. And when he thanks his honey for that cup of tea, I melt. A-