Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bob Dylan: Self-Portrait [Columbia, 1970]
Jon Landau wrote to suggest I give this a D, but that's pique. Conceptually, this is a brilliant album which is organized, I think, by two central ideas. First that "self" is most accurately defined (and depicted) in terms of the artifacts--in this case pop tunes and folk songs claimed as personal property and semispontaneous renderings of past creations frozen for posterity on a piece of tape and (perhaps) even a couple of songs one has written oneself--to which one responds. Second, that the people's music is the music people like, Mantovani strings and all. But in order for a concept to work it has to be supported musically--that is, you have to listen. I don't know anyone, even vociferous supporters of this album, who plays more than one side at a time. I don't listen to it at all . The singing is not consistently good, though it has its moments, and the production--for which I blame Bob Johnston, though Dylan has to be listed as a coconspirator--ranges from indifferent to awful. It is possible to use strings and soprano choruses well, but Johnston has never demonstrated the knack. Other points: it's overpriced, the cover art is lousy, and it sounds good on WMCA. C+