Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bob Dylan/The Band

  • Before the Flood [Asylum, 1974] A
  • The Basement Tapes [Columbia, 1975] A+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Before the Flood [Asylum, 1974]
At its best, this is the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded. All analogous live albums fall flat. The Rolling Stones are mechanical dolls by comparison, the Faces merely sloppy, the Dead positively quiet. The MC5 achieved something similar by ignoring musicianship altogether, but while the Band sounds undisciplined, threatening to destroy their headlong momentum by throwing out one foot or elbow too many, they never abandon their enormous technical ability. In this they follow the boss. When he sounded thin on Planet Waves, so did they. Now his voice settles in at a rich bellow, running over his old songs like a truck. I agree that a few of them will never walk again, but I treasure the sacrilege; Uncle Bob purveying to the sports arena masses. We may never even know whether this is a masterpiece. A

The Basement Tapes [Columbia, 1975]
These are the famous lost demos recorded at Big Pink in 1967 and later bootlegged on The Great White Wonder and elsewhere. Of the eighteen Dylan songs, thirteen have been heard in cover versions, one by Dylan himself; the six Band songs have never even been bootlegged and are among their best. Because the Dylan is all work tape, the music is certifiably unpremeditated, lazy as a river and rarely relentless or precise--laid back without complacency or slickness. The writerly "serious" songs like "Tears of Rage" are all the richer for the company of his greatest novelties--if "Going to Acapulco" is a dirge about having fun, "Don't Ya Tell Henry" is a ditty about separation from self, and both modes are enriched by the Band's more conventional ("realistic") approach to lyrics. We needn't bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975. It would have been the best album of 1967 too. And it's sure to sound great in 1983. A+