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Printable Version
Reviewed by -
Grey Cavitt
Bob Dylan
Blonde on Blonde
Released: September 16, 2003
Origination Year: 1966
Time: 73.01
Tracks: 14 - 2CD
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Style: Studio/Reissue
Format: SACD - Hybrid
Enhancement: DSD
Label:Columbia Records

Track Listing
  1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
  2. Pledging My Time
  3. Visions of Johanna
  4. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
  5. I Want You
  6. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
  7. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
  8. Just Like a Woman
  9. Most Likely You Go YOur Way and I'll Go Mine
  10. Temporary Like Achilles
  11. Absolutely Sweet Marie
  12. 4th Time Around
  13. Obviously Five Believers
  14. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Bob Dylan

Contrasting with Highway 61 Revisited’s concise journey down the tracks leading to Desolation Row, Blonde on Blonde is a rambling trip upon Dylan’s magic swirlin’ ship, tearing through styles and switching moods from tune to tune. One moment, he is in the garage shoved tight in front of a horn section sliding drunkenly from note to note, the next moment, he has crashed, listening to cheesy country tunes that now speak his mind as he nurses a lover he can only visit in memory. He is pushing women away with scorn and begging them with pathetic pleas to come back to stay this time. He’s stuck inside of Mobile, he’s spoofing the Beatles, and he’s seeing sweet narcotic nightmares drip down a needle. He blindly throws everything into the pot, stirs leisurely while it simmers, and somehow, the steaming stew is deliriously delicious.

How he, in less than one year, twisted Highway’s earthy roots into a carpet fit for an ethereal flight about an imagined continent is a mystery, but Dylan morphed from that cynical, knowing man on the previous cover into the scarfed, dreamy poet adorning the front of Blonde on Blonde. Words wind into strands, strands into knots, and knots into nets of quicksilver. The varied music, enveloping every style Dylan previously played, slaps, swaggers, crinkles, and cries. Somewhere in the midst of this dazed delight, Dylan’s voice drags through the liquid colors to lead the listener through the smoky, hallucinatory splashes of hazy emotions spattered about the wafting landscape. He went from wearily traveling the world to creating a new one.

Blonde on Blonde is rock’s first double-album, and its wild, diffuse variety is the model for most of the attempts at such a feat that followed. There are musical and lyrical threads running through many of the songs, helping the album hold itself together, but the record really sews itself into a whole by its own careening nature. Like an episodic novel, Blonde’s wandering ways is its unity. Nearly every subsequent double album, from The Beatles’ White Album through Trout Mask Replica, to London Calling, tried to recreate that magic, magnetic paradox of cohesion by diversity.

Columbia’s reissue of this classic is a work of love. The stereo SACD layer is the same as the late-90s release reviewed elsewhere on this site, but rather than sharing that disc’s horrid packaging, the digipak for this hybrid is a gorgeous recreation of the vinyl’s wraparound portrait of Dylan lost in blurred browns. Also new to this version is a CD layer with sharper fidelity and wider dynamics than any CD of this album ever achieved, and a 5.1 channel layer. All three layers are remixes from the original elements used to create the actual master, which reportedly is too ragged for use. For the stereo versions, the engineers carefully attempted to recreate the original mix. They did a good job; though the original vinyl still boasts a superior mix, most listeners will probably not be able to notice much difference.

For many, the initial draw of SACDs is not the increased fidelity, but the opportunity to hear music in the round as opposed to the stage-like effect of two stereo speakers in front of the listener. Unlike many multi-channel remixes riddled with gimmicks and goofy spatial effects, the 5.1 mix here is tasteful and aggressive yet true in spirit to the stereo original and should delight fans of surround sound. The stereo mix is still the ideal way to hear this masterpiece, but the 5.1 layer is an interesting variation on the original, and the sense of being lost in the center of an enveloping soundscape does fit this particular album well.

The SACD sonics are stunning, if not quite as breathtaking as those on Freewheelin’. The shrillness of the harmonica will probably annoy some listeners, and the treble is fairly extreme in these versions, but the whine of the instrument was piercing on the slightly less hot original vinyl as well. Greg Calbi and George Marino, the talented masterers for this disc, labored to recreate the warmth of vinyl and largely succeeded. The resolution of these layers gives the instruments a full-bodied, three-dimensional presence that no other digital version of Blonde has approached.

Already, fans have debated whether this hybrid Blonde needs to be broken up into two discs. I am not an expert on the capacity of SACDs containing three layers, but I confess I am a bit cynically doubtful that a double disc format was necessary, even if it does recreate the original concept. Really, though, with music this transcendent, recreated with this level of care, no one should hesitate to fork over a few extra dollars to take this album home.

Many of the songs on Blonde on Blonde are among Dylan’s best – "Visions of Johanna" surely ranks with the greatest rock songs ever produced – but as impressive as the individual tracks are, they are wisps when compared to the incredible weight of the album as a whole. Dylan achieved a unique synergy giving birth to the double album format, and while some artists copied this daunting feat to create many of rock’s greatest works, few are as mighty, as mysterious, or as moving as Dylan’s original.

Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
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212 Frech

"Even though most of the people I knew in my youth are gone, I still reach out to them..."
Norman Maclean - Paraphrase

"...we should enjoy every sandwich." -- Warren Zevon, 2003