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Our Music Year No. 43: Bob Dylan, ‘Empire Burlesque’

By From page A5 | February 12, 2013

Artist: Bob Dylan
Title: “Empire Burlesque”
Year: 1985
Format: Compact disc (Spotify)
Grade: D-

The ’80s were hard on Robert Zimmerman. Descriptions abound of the creation of “Empire Burlesque” that show him uninterested in his own art, letting others reconfigure his songs for him.

Unsurprisingly, “Empire” is regarded as own of Dylan’s weakest efforts. While there is potential in “Empire Burlesque,” records are about results, not shoulda, coulda or woulda.

Many songs on “Empire” haven’t aged well because of their adherence to musical trends of the period. “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)” is a country-twinged attempt at reggae that overstuffs the mix with too many ideas.

“When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky” is a horrifying risk, a dance song with the kind of gated reverb drum beat perfected by Phil Collins.

“Dark Eyes” is the only true classic, recounting a moment when Dylan passed an abused prostitute while boarding an elevator. It’s simply Dylan and his harmonica, a familiar comfort after a record of such messy studio overindulgence.

Freed of the shackles of its ’80s production, “Empire” might not be so terrible, but it’s a victim of something the best Dylan songs avoid – feeling horribly dated.

Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.
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Discussion | 14 comments

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  • Phil T. ListenerFebruary 13, 2013 - 3:29 am

    This album was clearly a disappointment, especially following his prior studio album Infidels. One song you missed, and is my favorite on the work is "I'll Remember You". Some may consider it sappy, but the song brings me to tears every time I listen to it. Beautiful version of Bob with Tom Petty and his band. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0_jaxskVJ4

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  • PETER INSIAMFebruary 13, 2013 - 4:29 am

    DYLAN'S 'EMPIRE BURLESQUE' IS AN EXCELLENT WORK BY ANY STANDARD. ' TIGHT CONNECTION..... ' & ' WHEN NIGHT COMES.....' ARE TIMELESS SONGS W/ A KILLER BAND. WAKE - UP DeCICCO OR CRAWL BACK UNDER YOUR ROCK PLEASE.

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  • Rick ColeFebruary 13, 2013 - 6:39 am

    There are a couple of songs from Empire Burlesque I listen to regularly-- Clean Cut Kid and Trust Yourself. I also think Seeing the Real You At Last stands with Positively 4th Street and Like A Rolling Stone as one of his great put down songs.

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  • Phil T. ListenerFebruary 13, 2013 - 9:55 am

    Though I liked Clean Cut Kid, it seemed like a cross between Neighborhood Bully and License to Kill. It probably took Bob about an hour to write, and possibly was also mostly stream of consciousness.I definitely liked some of the lines especially: He drank Coca-Cola, he was eating Wonder Bread Ate Burger Kings, he was well fed. I guess he got the OK from the product makers to use their names. I know in "Loal" The Kinks had to change "Coca-Cola" to "Cherry-Cola" because they didn't get permission from Coke.

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  • zezeFebruary 13, 2013 - 9:58 am

    c´mon man you don´t know what your talkin about probably dylan and us didn´t get the sound that we were expecting but the songs are great all of them

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  • angelinaFebruary 13, 2013 - 10:50 am

    I love this album, I think it has aged well. Looking back at the song When the night comes falling, I'd love to hear it with a real drum back up. I have listened to it non stop this year and I think it has a lot more life looking back than I might have thought of it at the time. I never find Dylan's songs un-enjoyable. There can't always be the kind of over the top success to every piece of an artist's work. I am always amazed at how many different ways he can spin a tune. I'll remember you is one of the best love songs, right up there with Most of the Time, Born in Time, and Forgetful Heart. It is very real, in terms of it's sentiment and how he presents his emotions right out on the table for us to pick over. The author of this post is certainly picking over bones rather than searching for new tender flesh here.

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  • Phil T. ListenerFebruary 14, 2013 - 3:49 am

    Don't know if you saw this version. I agree and think it is one of his top love songs. Happy Valentine's Day to all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0_jaxskVJ4

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  • kev BFebruary 13, 2013 - 11:13 am

    It was disappointing and yes has a distinct'80's feel, ie overmixed and drums too loud!. The songs though were largly good, just spoiled by the Arthur Baker remix. The unreleased versions of the songs are good, revealing a Dylan as on form as he was on the previous Infidels.

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  • PK EiseltFebruary 13, 2013 - 1:45 pm

    I agree with Kev B. Most of, if not all of the songs have been performed in other contexts and have aged remarkably well. The production on the album is definitely questionable, but the song writing is pretty solid.

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  • Dan SullivanFebruary 13, 2013 - 4:06 pm

    Nick, We'll have to agree to disagree. Empire Burlesque ranks as a favorite of mine. It's easily in his top 7 or 8 albums. "When the night comes falling from the sky" is classic Dylan. One of his great songs. Check out the lyrics. And that disco dance groove fits the song perfectly. "Clean Cut Kid," "Trust Yourself" and "I'll remember you." Great songs. Great album!

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  • StR A bit on the dark sideFebruary 13, 2013 - 4:54 pm

    "When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky"........ Look out across the fields, see me returning... Smoke is in your eye, you draw a smile... From the fireplace where my letters to you are burning... You've had time to think about it for a while............... Well, I've walked two hundred miles, look me over... It's the end of the chase and the moon is high... It wont matter who loves who... You'll love me or I'll love you... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling from the sky......... I can see through your walls and I know you're hurting....Sorrow covers you up like a cape... Only yesterday I know that you've been flirting... With disaster you somehow managed to escape.................. I can't provide for you no easy answers.... Who are you that I should have to lie ?... You'll know all about it, love... It'll fit you like a glove... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling from the sky. ............ I can hear your trembling heart beat like a river... You must have been protecting someone last time I called... I never asked you for nothing that you couldn't deliver.... I've never asked you to set yourself up for a fall........... I saw thousands who could have overcome the darkness... For the love of a lousy buck, I've watched them die... Stick around, baby, we're not through... Don't look for me, I'll see you... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling from the sky............. In your teardrops, I can see my own reflection.. It was on the northern border of Texas where I crossed the line.... I don't want to be a fool starving for affection.... I don't want to drown in someone else's wine.... For all eternity I think I will remember... That icy wind that's howling in your eye... You will seek me and you'll find me... In the wasteland of your mind... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling from the sky........ Well, I sent you my feelings in a letter... When you were gambling for support... This time tomorrow I'll know you better... When my memory is not so short............. This time I'm asking for freedom... Freedom from a world which you deny... And you'll give it to me now... I'll take it anyhow... When the night comes falling... When the night comes falling.... When the night comes falling from the sky.

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  • When the night comes falling from the skyFebruary 13, 2013 - 4:55 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2tIj4Jd_R0

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  • angelinaFebruary 15, 2013 - 10:13 am

    thanks for posting the lyrics darkside. Could have looked them up myself but I didn't. And I haven't listened to it for a while. Reading them hear gave me the chills, and I could hear it playing in my head(minus the drum track) I do consider it one of his really strong songs. Would love to see the band do it the way they're playing today. Everyone always says he wouldn't do a song that had the back up singers, But he did Joey last tour, that really suprised me. He keeps you guessing doesn't he/

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  • zezeFebruary 15, 2013 - 11:42 am

    sorry man, but if you think that you`re oppinion justifies this blog, decicco, let me tell you that anybody seen my love and when the night comes falling, the songs that you refering, are amazing songs, they would be a hit for anibody else, clean cut kid, trust yourself, i remember you,emotionally yours are great songs, just listen to b springsteen speech when bob was inducted for the r&r hall of fame, and yes is a 80s record, like h61 or freewhilin 60s, desire or street legal 70s, and dont see any problem about that. i´m portuguese and the last song i´ve from bob in the radio in portugal when one of his records was release was thight connection.

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